WMBF News investigation: Swiped

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A suffering economy is the perfect time for credit card thieves to prey on unsuspecting victims, but those who are taking steps to protect their accounts could only be setting themselves up for a false sense of security.

In a WMBF News special investigation, Anchor Chandi Lowry went to a number of retailers across the Grand Strand to see if she could get away with using a credit card that did not belong to her.

Swipe after swipe, Lowry, an African American female, made purchases on the credit card of WMBF News General Manager Ted Fortenberry, an older Caucasian male.  Despite the card featuring the picture of Fortenberry on it, 22 stores allowed Lowry to make purchases with it.

"I'm surprised that people didn't check," said Fortenberry, after viewing undercover camera footage Lowry taped while making the purchases.

While a number of clerks knew something wasn't right when ringing up the purchase, only six questioned her motive behind the purchase.  For the remaining clerks, a person vastly different from who was pictured on the card did not raise a red flag.

Tiffany Suggs with the South Atlantic Bank says instances like that happen too often, commenting that a number of merchants aren't trained to check for proper identification.

One of the few clerks who did catch Lowry red-handed was Sandy Steerman, an employee Jumpin, Juice and Java.

"Check every time if the ID's are the same," she said.  "If the names are the same, you still have to be suspicious."

While the investigation showed the potential for fraudulent credit card purchases to be made across the Grand Strand, the problem spans coast-to-coast. In Memphis, TN, a secret shopper racked up nearly $500 of charges on a card that was anything but hers.

You may be a firm believer that your credit card won't ever be stolen, but what steps do you take should it be stolen?

Kathy Graham with the Better Business Bureau says to contact the police and the Federal Trade Commission.

"They will put a temporary hold on your credit so they can't go out there and apply for new cards," she noted.

But what if you don't catch the fraudulent charges quick enough?  Suggs says those who find fraudulent charges on their credit card statements have only 60 days from the day the credit card statement is received to notify a bank of the unauthorized transactions.

Graham says the best way to protect yourself from credit card charge fraud is to simply check your credit reports - and often.

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