Officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization’s fraud investigation wing went on the radio airwaves Wednesday to educate citizens and tourists about a growing trend in credit card theft. They gave advice about simple preventative measures.
Chief of the bank fraud division, Francisco Velásquez, said one of the best ways customers can protect themselves against credit card theft is to be extra careful with a purse or wallet in public places in Costa Rica such as buses and plazas.
Marco Vargas, a banking fraud investigator with the Judicial Investigating Organization also suggested a debit card holder should never write down his or her personal identification number let alone carry it in a purse or a wallet.
Tourists can be blatant targets for this type of simple theft, and, according to the U.S. Department of State crime and safety report for Costa Rica, the U.S. Embassy in San Jose processes more cases of passport theft than any other U.S. embassy in the world. The most likely scenario is a bag or purse stolen from a bus or tourist van, and oftentimes a credit or debit card is taken with the passport.
But, Vargas, said petty theft may not be a traveler’s greatest concern. He said credit card thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Simply feeling safe from credit card theft because the physical card was not stolen could be a false sense of security for potential victims, he said..
Velásquez suggested people check their balances regularly and report any unauthorized charges to their financial institution and investigators.
Con artists have been caught stealing information when patrons present their cards at restaurants or other seemingly safe places to make purchases, he said. The data taken from a card when it is scanned is enough to make a duplicate or purchase goods online.
Another method of maximizing illegal gains from a stolen credit card is for the thief to purchase as much as he or she can of high-end items such as flat screen televisions or other high-end electronics at a store, maxing out the card, and then exchange those products on the black market for cash or drugs.
It is common for credit cards or credit card information stolen in Costa Rica to end up in the hands of criminal syndicates or drug cartels in Mexico and Columbia, financing gang and drug warfare, the investigators reported.
And the trend of stolen credit or debit information seems to be on the rise. The travel recommendation Web sites for Costa Rica published by the Canadian, Australian and United States government warn against the threat of credit card theft for foreigners and say the rate of reported incidents is increasing.