Investigators in De Soto County, MS say a debit and credit card theft ring has now gone global. Fraudulent purchases have been made with the stolen card numbers in Florida, Texas, and now St. Petersburg, Russia. While most of the cases have involved debit card numbers, some credit card numbers have been reportedly stolen as well. In some cases, debit card owners have had their bank accounts cleaned out, usually in a matter of two to three days.
The first cases were reported to local law enforcement agencies in Hernando and
De Soto County in November 2007. However, according to their information, thefts may date back as far as February 2007. And the number of victims continues to grow. To date, more than 240 cases have been reported, with additional victims continuing to trickle in daily.
Although the De Soto County Sheriff’s Department is coordinating its efforts with those of local law enforcement agencies in Hernando, MS, Texas and Florida, as well as federal and state investigators, authorities have thus far been unable to solve the case. At this point, investigators can only speculate about the thieves’ method of obtaining the card numbers. The high number of victims, the numbers of locations where the card holders used the cards and the Russian connection make this case particularly difficult to crack.
Consumers should remain ever vigilant regarding their personal information to protect themselves from identity theft. The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South suggests that consumers take the following steps to protect against debit and credit card fraud:
- Know where your debit and credit cards are at all times.
- Choose a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that is different from your address, phone number, Social Security number, or birth date.
- Do not keep your PIN in your purse or wallet with the card.
- Keep all transaction records and compare them to your financial statements.
- Immediately report any errors or unauthorized transfers on your statement to your bank or financial institution, as well as local law enforcement.
- Report lost or stolen checks, credit cards, ATM or debit cards immediately.
- Consider utilizing your financial institution’s online account access to be able to view bank statements and transactions anytime online.
- Always log out after Internet banking sessions, particularly if using a shared computer.
- When using your debit or credit card, don’t let it out of your sight.
- Report any incidence of credit or debit card fraud to the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877-ID THEFT (438-4338) or online at www.ftc.gov.