Monday, July 30, 2001
Credit-card thieves hard to find, prosecute If issuers cover losses, police may not investigate
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS While credit-card theft in Ohio is punishable by up to a year in prison, the crime is difficult to prove and prosecute, and many law-enforcement officials choose not to investigate such cases, authorities say.
Credit-card companies cover losses to merchants but have policies of not prosecuting thieves even when they are identified, said Columbus fraud Detective Brian Spann.
Therefore, many suspects are not investigated because officials see no victims.
We rarely do, Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Dan Cable told The Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday. We see mostly receiving-stolen-property cases with cards unless we have a witness who saw them take it from a person.
Susan Bro thought she'd be able to help her case. She knows where someone used her stolen credit cards, and she's seen store surveillance videos that she thinks show a thief using them.
Ms. Bro, on vacation in April from Chicago when her cards were stolen from her car, tracked him through purchase receipts and persuaded store managers to release videos, Columbus police said.
If a (stolen) card is used, Visa will pay it. In this case, she's not the financial victim because she's not taking a financial loss. The credit-card company is, Mr. Spann said. She wasted her time.
Visa adopted a policy in April 2000 that consumers
would not be charged for any fraudulent use of their card. MasterCard soon after adopted the same policy.
A Visa spokesman said banks, which issue most credit cards, are free to work with police on fraud cases.
We don't feel it's our responsibility to prosecute charges on credit thefts, spokesman Keith Gordon said. It's basically up to the issuers to do that.
The Columbus police forgery and fraud unit has seen a nearly 400 percent increase in all offense reports during the past decade, Sgt. Robert Laird said. The increase is mostly due to stolen cards or people stealing someone's identity from the mail, he said.
Mr. Spann said Ms. Bro's case is frustrating, but typical.
To prove this is the guy, we need to have someone ID him using that credit card, and in the videos, we don't see him swiping the card (in a machine), Mr. Spann said. We don't even have signed receipts, so there's no handwriting to analyze.
Ms. Bro and other victims need to report credit-card thefts to one of the three national credit bureaus, said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer-fraud advocacy group in California.
These law-enforcement officers are a little behind the times, and it boils my blood when she is told she is not the victim, Ms. Givens said. It's true the banks and credit cards don't prosecute, and it's one of the chief complaints of law-enforcement officers I've dealt with.