By Luke Robins
Clinton County Staff Reporter
ST. JOHNS – The number of credit card fraud victims has increased over the past year. Through September, the total is up to 25 which is 11 more than occurred all of last year.
The police chief of the St. Johns Police Department, Kyle Knight, said that as technology gets better, it only makes crimes like these easier to pull off.
Knight said, “I feel that due to technology and the way that people are committing fraud has allowed them to be more discreet.”
According to Knight, it has become much more of a problem because of how easy it is to call. They call pretending to be from a bank, the IRS, or even a family member in need. Then they ask for personal information or for money in forms like Green Dot prepaid cards.
Knight said, “They are essentially telemarketers.”
Knight added that, unlike before, these crimes are not being committed by local citizens, but rather from different states and countries. There is a lot of concern because they do not have the resources to be able to deal with crimes like that.
“Our frauds were committed locally and now we get credit card and different types of frauds from people in Malaysia or down in Florida,” Knight said. “We don’t have the resources to track these people down.”
Knight said that all people are vulnerable to these scams, but the elderly are the ones who are the most targeted. Most of the time, the victims are losing somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000, while the highest he has ever seen was $80,000.
“Basically, it’s these people’s savings,” Knight said.
Bryan Wilber, a St. Johns local, believes that it is much easier for these people to get phone numbers.
Wilber said, “More people have more access to your phone than normal as far as solicitation and people selling your phone numbers.”
Knight said the best defense against these things is to not give out sensitive information.
Knight said, “The best potential way to prevent this is to never give out personal information over phone or over the computer. If you bank online, that’s one thing, but if someone calls or emails you asking for information. If they contact you, they have your information. If they’re asking for information, it’s a fraud scam.”
According to Knight, there is not much the police can do locally.
“Most of the time we receive the backlash, because people complain about it, but there is nothing we can do to stop it,” Knight said. “Unfortunately, we can’t deal with it here, we give them a report number and they give it to their credit card company and then they take care of it.”
Knight explained a situation in which he called one of these numbers and pretended to be the victim’s husband:
I called and acted as if I was the husband of the woman who had received a call and I had just gotten home from work. When I said I’m her husband, the gentleman said ‘Let me find your file’ and it took him approximately 30 seconds to find the file. This led me to believe that he was sitting at a table or a desk with multiple files in front of him, just waiting for people to call him back. He already stole $1,500. There are so many people doing these and they’re in remote locations.
According to Knight, there was even a door hanger placed on local’s door that said to call the phone number as there is a problem with their mortgage. When called, they were told to leave their bank account number.
“These people didn’t even have a mortgage,” Knight said.
Knight said that someone is even using the St. Johns Police Department’s phone number calling around asking for information.
Knight said that another thing to look out for are skimmers:
They’re putting them in gas stations. These people have a key to the gas pump where the credit card goes it and they open it up and put a decoder type thing and close it back up. So when you swipe you credit card at the pump, it reads all the numbers. With those numbers, they can go and create their own credit card with that number. Essentially, it’s your credit card, but it looks just like a generic one. It’s your account number.
According to Knight, he was told by a FBI agent to use gas pumps closest to the station itself as most skimmers are on the remote outside pumps where they can open and close the pumps quickly.
“The technology is out there, and their creativity and imagination is the limit. They’re using these tools to scam people,” Knight said. “It’s ingenious, and unfortunately, it works.”