Updated: 9/14/2011 5:03 PM ET|
The craziest credit card crimes
Think it can't happen to you? Think again. And if it does, it can be weirder than you could imagine.
Falling victim to credit card theft is bad enough. But receiving flowers from the thief adds a whopping amount of insult to the painful -- and potentially costly -- injury.
Just ask a woman in Rhode Island who received $65 worth of flowers paid for on her own stolen credit card. The thief racked up nearly $2,500 in charges for which Bank of America, the card issuer, said the victim wouldn't be liable.
Think something similar can't happen to you? Think again.
Wild and wacky credit card crimes are happening faster than you can ask, "Is my credit card safe?" And they happen to people at some of the most unlikely times, like when they're on jury duty.
Here's a look at some of the other craziest credit card crimes of recent years:
Caught up in courtroom drama
In March 2010, Jennifer Mercado was sitting on a Bronx, N.Y., jury in a credit card theft case when her role suddenly shifted from juror to defendant. The prosecutors trying the case against a man accused of grand larceny and possession of a stolen credit card turned the tables and charged Mercado with similar crimes.
She was arrested and jailed midtrial, accused of stealing a fellow juror's credit card and embarking on shopping trips during lunch breaks.
Prosecutors say they caught Mercado through store security videos after the other juror reported his card as stolen and saw that the charges on his statement corresponded to the stores from which Mercado had returned to the courthouse with shopping bags.
Mercado was pulled from the jury, arrested and charged with grand larceny, identity theft, possession of stolen property and unlawful use of a credit card. She pleaded not guilty in July 2010 and is awaiting trial.
The not-so-helpful neighbor
Jerome Malecki often did odd jobs and mowed the lawn for a retiree who lived next door in Harford County, Md. But when the neighbor died unexpectedly while out of town in 2004 and left no heirs, Malecki, who had a key to the man's house, stole tens of thousands of dollars through his deceased neighbor.
In January 2010, a federal judge in Baltimore sentenced Malecki to a year and a day in prison for fraud and ordered him to pay $140,729 in restitution.
Malecki didn't work alone. He pulled off the crime with an accomplice who helped him renew the dead man's old credit cards and set up new ones in his name. The pair racked up about $47,000 in credit card debt before the scheme was uncovered in November 2007.
Malecki admitted to a years-long scam that also included stealing about $95,000 in Social Security and pension payments sent to his neighbor, who died with few living relatives to report him deceased. To cover up the scheme, he kept the lawn tidy, brought in the mail and carried on with his other routine odd jobs so nothing seemed amiss in his neighbor's home. Using the dead man's accounts, he even paid the mortgage, taxes and utilities to make it appear the man was alive.
Stolen plastic paid for breast implants
Cigarettes, booze and electronics often top the list of things purchased with stolen credit cards. But in December 2010, Shatarka Nuby grabbed a lot of attention for the unusual nature of what she purchased on stolen credit.
The South Florida woman, accused of identity theft, paid someone to steal another individual's personal information and then used the victim's identification to apply for several credit cards. Once she had the newly minted plastic in her hands, she headed for a plastic surgeon's office for a few procedures, including breast implant surgery and liposuction on her arms. She also outfitted her apartment with new furniture.
The police caught up with the thief, who pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and credit card fraud. She was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.
A piece of a stolen pie
A millionaire dentist from Michigan was arrested in March 2011 after allegedly finding a credit card during a trip to Florida and using it to buy pizza.
Authorities said Dr. Richard Ludwig found a college student's credit card outside a mall and used it to place an order for two large pizzas. Around the same time, the student realized he had dropped his card in the parking lot and called the card company to cancel it. The company told him the card had just been used to purchase pizza at the same mall where he had lost it, so he immediately called police.
Police who went to the restaurant and said they found Ludwig still waiting for a $40.64 pizza order. Ludwig, who had $250 in cash in his wallet, told police his net worth was between $3 million and $4 million. His case is awaiting a court date.
Neighbors from hell
In March 2008, a man roused suspicion at a Wichita, Kan., police station after he strolled in and reported that he was an undercover agent who had assumed another man's identity. A sort of bizarre confession, perhaps?
It's unclear why the man went to the station, but the next day, when police went to the address the man had provided, they discovered the self-described undercover agent and his wife living in the home. The catch: It wasn't their home.
The pair had broken into the house and assumed the identity of the real owner, who was out of town for several months caring for his sick mother. Once in, they opened credit card accounts, hooked up satellite TV and phone service, and ordered new flat-screen TVs and laptops in the homeowner's name.
And just in case the homeowner were to return, the couple changed the locks. At least they kept up the place: The pair even put up a new mailbox. During their stay, the couple also hosted neighbors -- who thought they were new homeowners or new renters -- for dinner.
Don't become a statistic
The 2011 Identity Fraud Survey Report, released in February by Javelin Strategy & Research, had some good news. The report said the number of identity fraud victims had decreased by 28%, to 8.1 million, in the United States in 2010. That's 3 million fewer victims than in 2009. Total fraud dropped from $56 billion to $37 billion, the report said.
However, Beverly Blair Harzog, a consumer advocate and spokeswoman for Credit.com, says that doesn't mean your credit cards and your identity are safe.
She gives these tips:
- Check your accounts online weekly. It takes only a minute but can save you a lot of heartache and time fighting fraudulent charges. "Check them daily if you suspect anything is amiss with your cards," Harzog says.
- Check your credit report every four months. You are entitled to one free report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- and Harzog suggests spreading out the free reports, pulling a different report every four months.
- Sign the back of every credit card. "Don't write 'see driver's license' on the back, because that means a cashier or worker has the chance to look at your license, which has your address and signature. That's a bigger risk for ID theft than signing the back of the card."
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The card isn't LEGALLY VALID until it has been signed.
As far as "knowing your signature", you're assuming that criminals are artists with photographic memories! The real problem is sales clerks who don't check the signature at all!
1 Year and i day for stealing 140,000 from a dead man. Absolutely no message sent to criminal or society. An example of an unjust justice. The headline even congratulates these evil people. Sadly, the status quo doesn't seem to care or have any solutions to protect hard working people from this form of evil
Someone stole my debit info and tried buying plane tickets to Utah online. Bank of America, or SATAN'S FINANCIAL told me to wait to see if the pending transaction went through and only then could I try to get my money back. (which seemed slim)
Called Jetblue and they put a stop payment on the tickets...on a Sunday.
points for jetblue
B of A lost my business in the same time it would have taken for that transaction to clear.
"Isn't signing the back of the credit card easier for them to know my signature?"
Signatures don't really mean much anyway. They are mainly so that you can confirm your own signature (ie that's not my signature! I did not sign that document!). In most cases, if you are a clear victim of identity theft and the thief used your signature for some documents - the court will not really need to scrutinize his forging abilities to prove that you were, in fact, not the signer - because there are many other easier things that can prove the same (ie witnesses, location, etc)
Getting someone's signature down exactly really is not important for identity theft. There is no 'signature scanner' that makes sure it is actually yours. The only time a signature would really come into question is if the thief is already caught and in court.
the prob with all the procedures in place is that it is imposible to have a speedy checkout anymore, they want id, then they wana see signature, then they wanna write your Id num down on the check. Then they start talking to you and mess something up and charge you twice for the order. Then they dont know how to fix the issue and tell you to call the card company or bank and straighten it out from there(insane). when i dont do that and just stand there they look at me like im holding up the line,(fine by me). Finally, i ask for the maneger and she comes over and voides out the order in one sec and tells me that everything is ok now(cool). then we try the process over agian and a customer behind me lets out an annoying sye. By this time i am wishing i was dead when the cashier says can isee your id. True Story..
I put see id and then I show them my passport. No address or anything there. Of course, sometimes I get a clerk who has never seen a passport before, and they want to see my driver's license. I tell them that the Federal government trumps state any day....
Just a reminder, I read something on someone's posting, do NOT have your address printed on your checks!!
Before you start calling people imbeciles, maybe you should educate yourself first.
The agreement Visa and Mastercard have with merchants forbids them from asking for identification. According to both companies, a signature is enough. While this was implemented back when it was much more difficult to get a credit card, it is still current procedure for both companies (as least it was as of 2 years ago).
As for you not signing your card, that is a violation of the agreement between you and your card issuer, as well as Visa or Mastercard. In order for you to have the privilige of using their services, you have to follow their rules. Without a signature, your card is not valid, which is why you had to sign it before it would be accepted. It even tells you this on the back of the card.
You have every right to demand that they check identification, that doesn't mean though that they will. Personally, I think that they need to change their procedures and get with the times. When anybody can get a card, including a cat or dog, something needs to be changed. Especially when identity theft is a bigger problem than 30 years ago.
Back when I was in college I went to a party and well lost my wallet, I did not think much about it then only a couple of dollars was in it. I replaced the contents and went on about life. About a year later I was working, and got a phone call from a loan company wanting me to make a payment on a car I co-signed for. I was upset and told them I did not co-sign for a car. Apparently I was not the only one because someone had purchased a car with stolen ID and I was listed as a co-signer on the loan. This was not the only thing that was bought and ultimately I had to file chapter 7 when I was only 21 with almost $100K in debt. A true lesson learned on my part
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