27 NEWSFIRST Investigation: Elaborate Identity Theft Scheme

They're small, quick and easy to use. But as one Central Kentucky college student learned, the convenience of credit versus cash can cost you.
"I started adding up purchases in cities I wasn't in. Places I didn't go to."
The identity theft victim, who we'll call "Amanda" said her bank statement shows purchases for as low as a $1.00 up to nearly $500.
In all, the thieves took nearly $3,000 from her in just two days using bogus credit cards.
Detectives were able to trace the purchases to stores in Winchester, Frankfort, Versailles, and Nicholasville.
"Some how they're getting that magnetic strip and we don't know how they're doing that," says Detective Tom Lewis with Winchester Police .
There's some video from the Walmart in Winchester which may help out. Detectives traced the purchases back to two men. In the video the clerk rings up item after item. The pair pulls out a credit card with "Amanda's" account number on it.
They purchased so much they could barely get their shopping cart out of the store. It's overflowing with groceries.
The same day the two walk into the south side Kroger in Lexington. They grab a cart and swipe again with the fake card.
Another day one of the men walked into the Meijer in Hamburg with a woman.
By the time they get to the register he pulls the card out of his wallet and gives it swipe before the clerk finishes ringing everything up. Then the woman with him actually signs for the purchase.
It leaves Winchester Detective Tom Lewis to wonder how many others may have fallen victim to the pair. Not to mention they're making the cards.
So as police search for the thieves who caused Amanda so much drama she hopes someone recognizes the men in the video.

If you have any information about this crime, you are asked to call Crime Stoppers at (859) 253-2020. You can also call Lexington Police at (859) 258-3744 or Winchester Police at (859) 745-7400.

Top 10 Tips for Identity Theft Protection

An identity thief takes your personal information and uses it without your knowledge. The thief may run up debts or even commit crimes in your name. The following tips can help you lower your risk of becoming a victim.

1. Protect your Social Security number
Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If your health plan (other than Medicare) or another card uses your Social Security number, ask the company for a different number. For more information, see “Your Social Security Number: Controlling the Key to Identity Theft” on our Social Security Numbers Web page.

2. Fight “phishing” – don’t take the bait
Scam artists “phish” for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in e-mails and in the regular mail. Don’t give out your personal information – unless you made the contact. Don’t respond to a request to verify your account number or password. Legitimate companies do not request this kind of information in this way.

3. Keep your identity from getting trashed
Shred or tear up papers with personal information before you throw them away. Shred credit card offers and “convenience checks” that you don’t use.

4. Control your personal financial information
California law requires your bank and other financial services companies to get your permission before sharing your personal financial information with outside companies. You also have the right to limit some sharing of your personal information with your companies’ affiliates. For more information, see “Your Financial Privacy” on our Financial Privacy Web page.

5. Shield your computer from viruses and spies
Protect your personal information on your home computer. Use strong passwords: with at least eight characters, including a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, easy for you to remember, but difficult for others to guess. Use firewall, virus and spyware protection software that you update regularly. Steer clear of spyware. Download free software only from sites you know and trust. Don’t install software without knowing what it is. Set Internet Explorer browser security to at least “medium.” Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.

6. Click with caution
When shopping online, check out a Web site before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Read the privacy policy and look for opportunities to opt out of information sharing. (If there is no privacy policy posted, beware! Shop elsewhere.) Only enter personal information on secure Web pages with “https” in the address bar and a padlock symbol at the bottom of the browser window. These are signs that your information will be encrypted or scrambled, protecting it from hackers.

7. Check your bills and bank statements
Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.

8. Stop pre-approved credit offers
Stop most pre-approved credit card offers. They make a tempting target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists.

9. Ask questions
Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. Explain that you’re concerned about identity theft. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, consider going somewhere else.

10. Check your credit reports – for free
One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Request all three reports at once, or be your own no-cost credit-monitoring service. Just spread out your requests, ordering from a different bureau every four months. Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-322-8228, or online at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp. Or you can mail in an order form. See our Consumer Information Sheet 10, “How to Freeze Your Credit Files.”
(© 2007 State of California.)