As Christmas is approaching, it is important for us to be extra aware of our surroundings when shopping in crowded malls and stores. As a detective investigating frauds in the Criminal Investigations Unit in Oshawa, (prior to my current position) I found distraction thefts and the associated frauds always increased prior to the Christmas season. I’m going to explain how these crimes occur and then give you some useful tips to avoid being a victim yourself.
The suspects usually work in teams of two to five people. One person will “shoulder surf” you while you are putting you pin into the machine to make a debit or credit card purchase or to withdraw cash from a bank machine. You then put your card back in your wallet and then into your purse or pocket. Another team member will distract you by asking you a question or by bumping into you while the other suspect steals your wallet. The suspect takes out the card that was just used and puts your wallet back. You carry on with your shopping and don’t even know the card is missing until you attempt to make another purchase with it. By then, the suspects have used this stolen card many times to buy items, take money out of the bank, or to transfer money to another person in a distant country. Because the PIN was used, it is difficult to prove you were not the one making all the purchases and often your bank will not believe you until the police prove it was not you using the card.
Then the investigation starts and the police hope to find video showing when you were shoulder surfed, when the wallet and card was lifted and video of the suspects using your card in various stores. Often the suspects conceal their identity in various methods and then it becomes very difficult to solve this crime. We might be able to prove to the bank you were not responsible for all the purchases and the bank then decides whether to reimburse you the money or not.
In one of my cases, the suspects were part of a sophisticated pick pocketing crime ring that set up temporary residences, did their crimes and then moved on to new cities when the police started closing in.
The newer option to make purchases by tapping your card usually has a low limit before a PIN is required and therefore this new Interac feature is not the preferred method of committing crime. Knowing the PIN allows for greater returns.
Ways to protect yourself:
1) Always cover your hand while putting in your PIN and look around to see who might be watching you while you make your purchase.
2) Be alert to strangers talking to you and touching you because while this is occurring, the other suspect is opening your purse without you noticing.
3) Keep your purse or wallet in your pocket in the front of your body as opposed to the rear.
4) Consider carrying just one card to do your shopping as opposed to your entire wallet and purse and keep this card in a front pocket.
5) Do not use the same PIN for every card because if they shoulder surf you and lift your entire wallet, then all your cards will be used prior to you even noticing.
6) When loading your car full of your purchases and your back is turned, be aware of people who may be on the other side taking items out.
If you have any questions about this article, do not hesitate to call me.
Wishing you a safe and happy holiday this season.
Sergeant Sheri Tate #632
Senior Support Coordinator, 905-579-1520