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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:12 pm
St. Petersburg Credit Card Fraud Charges: Cloning and Skimming
Credit card fraud has become a big problem in St. Petersburg and across Florida. Criminals are using clever techniques like cloning and skimming to steal people’s card information and rack up fraudulent charges. This article will break down how these schemes work, what impacts they have, and legal defenses if you are wrongly accused.
Cloning is when someone makes an illegal copy of your credit card by stealing the data from the magnetic stripe. They use a skimming device to swipe and store your card’s data, then encode that data onto a fake card they can use to make purchases.
For example, a skimming device may be secretly installed on a gas station pump. When you go to pay at the pump, it swipes your card and captures your credit card number, expiration date, CVV code, and other data. The thief then imprints that data onto a blank card to create a cloned copy.
With the cloned card in hand, the criminals can then go on a shopping spree with your stolen card information. They can make in-store purchases, take out cash advances, or buy money orders. Cloning often happens after skimming takes place.
Skimming refers to using a small electronic device to steal credit card information during a legitimate transaction. The skimmer is hidden in or attached to a credit card reader, like on an ATM, gas pump, or retail checkout terminal.
When you insert or swipe your card, the skimmer secretly captures your credit card data from the magnetic stripe. Criminals retrieve the skimmer later to access the stolen card numbers and other sensitive information.
Gas stations are a top target for skimmers because pumps are unattended and get heavy use. ATMs are also prime targets, with skimmers often fitted right over the real card reader slot.
In addition to stealing card data, skimmers at ATMs often use tiny hidden cameras to record PIN numbers. This allows criminals to drain bank accounts linked to debit cards as well as make fraudulent purchases with stolen credit card numbers.
Impacts of Credit Card Cloning and Skimming
Credit card cloning and skimming scams can have major financial impacts on victims and businesses:
- For consumers, stolen card information can lead to thousands in fraudulent charges and damage credit scores if undetected.
- Banks and credit card companies lose money on fraudulent transactions and must absorb the costs of reissuing new cards.
- Merchants lose money to chargebacks when customers dispute the bogus charges from cloned cards used at their business.
According to Chargebacks911, a disputed transaction costs the merchant a $3.75 fee per dollar. So those fees add up when criminals use cloned cards.
The FBI estimates skimming costs consumers and businesses $1 billion annually in the U.S.. It’s a massive problem that seems to just keep growing.
Why Cloning and Skimming are on the Rise
Despite growing anti-fraud technology, these types of credit card scams are still prevalent for several reasons:
- Criminals constantly adapt skimming devices and cloning techniques to sidestep security measures like EMV chip cards.
- Many businesses still rely on old magnetic stripe terminals which have weaker security than chip readers.
- Skimmers are small and easy to hide in card readers, making them hard to detect.
- Tourist areas and cities with lots of traffic are prime targets for skimmers.
Experts recommend consumers use credit cards with EMV chips, carefully inspect card readers, and cover the keypad when entering PINs to help avoid skimming. But ultimately, advanced skimming devices mean consumers must vigilantly monitor statements for any unauthorized charges.
Are Cloning and Skimming on the Rise in St. Petersburg?
Nationwide, skimming fraud increased by 700% in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021 according to FICO. However, the St. Petersburg Police Department reported zero skimming device complaints in 2022.
So while skimming surges elsewhere, St. Petersburg seems to be bucking the trend for now. But police still receive occasional reports, often from criminals targeting a specific area. Residents should remain cautious when using ATMs and card readers.
Peak Times for Credit Card Fraud
The winter holidays see a major uptick in credit card fraud, including from cloning and skimming. Increased spending means more opportunities for thieves. Also, people are often rushed and not as vigilant about checking card readers during the busy holidays.
But the impact on banks and consumers isn’t felt until the next year when victims discover the unauthorized charges and disputed transactions pile up. Q1 is when credit card fraud spikes from holiday shopping scams.
How to Avoid Falling Victim
Here are some tips to protect yourself from cloned cards and skimmers:
- Use EMV chip cards which are harder to counterfeit.
- Check card readers carefully before inserting your card. Look for anything loose, damaged or different.
- Wiggle a card reader or pull on it to check for skimmers.
- Cover the keypad when entering your PIN.
- Avoid using debit cards at gas stations and opt for credit instead to reduce PIN theft risk.
- Monitor your statements closely and report unauthorized charges right away.
Legal Consequences of Credit Card Fraud
Under Florida law, illegally using a stolen or fraudulent credit card to obtain money or goods is generally a first-degree misdemeanor or third-degree felony depending on the number of illegal uses and value obtained.
Penalties can include:
- Up to 1 year in jail for a first-degree misdemeanor
- Up to 5 years in prison for a third-degree felony
Trafficking in stolen card information or manufacturing cloned cards may result in more serious felony charges at both the state and federal level. Penalties can include up to 10-20 years in federal prison.
Falsely Accused of Credit Card Fraud?
Sometimes innocent people get wrongly accused of cloning, skimming, or other credit card frauds. A common scenario is when your card gets skimmed and cloned without your knowledge. Later, you get blamed for the fraudulent use.
Having an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical if you are under investigation or charged with any crime related to credit card fraud in St. Petersburg. A lawyer can help protect your rights and build the strongest defense.
Possible defenses in credit card fraud cases include:
- You did not intentionally commit any crime
- You were the victim of identity theft or card cloning yourself
- The charges are based on insufficient evidence or mistaken identity
- You had authorization to use the credit card or did not exceed authorized use
An attorney can examine the prosecution’s evidence for holes and also file motions to suppress evidence that was obtained illegally. Having an aggressive legal advocate on your side can make all the difference in avoiding conviction.
The Cost of Credit Card Fraud in St. Petersburg
Credit card cloning, skimming, and other types of fraud hurt consumers and businesses in St. Petersburg. Criminals are constantly inventing new schemes, but citizens can protect themselves by staying vigilant and exercising caution when using ATMs and card readers.
If you discover unauthorized charges, immediately notify your bank and card issuer. And if you are contacted by police or accused of fraud, retain a skilled criminal defense lawyer right away to protect your rights.
With smart prevention and early intervention, St. Petersburg residents can help reduce the impact of these damaging crimes on our community.