As the strength of the nation's economy remains in question, one expert said she believes an increase in credit card fraud and check forgery will continue through rough economic times.
Ellen Hein, manager and CEO of the Texas Tech Federal Credit Union, said she has seen an increase in the unauthorized use of credit cards and an increase in counterfeit checks that look like cashier's checks.
Hein said two cases of counterfeit checks were discovered in Lubbock during the last three weeks. Normally, it is common to see about one to two cases per year.
One of the most commonly seen scams, she said, is an e-mail stating the recipient was the winner of a lottery or similar contest.
Given the weakened economy, she said, she believes such cases will continue to increase.
Chief Ron Seacrist of the Tech Police Department said he also has noticed an increase in the number of reports of credit card abuse.
When a credit card is stolen and used, he said, the person normally will use the card within 24 hours, because after that time they may be unable to use the card.
Because of this, the department advises students to cancel as soon as possible, Seacrist said, and if the person uses the card before it is canceled, the department can use that location as a lead to find the person.
Hein said the Tech Federal Credit Union uses a system - Falcon Fraud - which is able to detect abnormal trends and sometimes catches fraud before students realize they became a victim.
But students should be careful about checks they receive in the mail and e-mails they receive, she said.
"If (it seems) too good to be true," Hein said, "it is too good to be true,"
Seacrist said students should be aware of where they place their credit cards, wallets and purses, even when absent for a short period of time.
Backpacks and residence halls also are targeted, he said, and carelessness is the cause of most credit card thefts.
Depending on the amount of money spent by the thief, Seacrist said, the person either could receive misdemeanor or felony charges.
More places that accept credit cards check for identification when a credit card is used, he said, which helps the department find thieves.
Although the department may not be able to charge the perpetrator for spending money, the person still may be guilty of possession of stolen property.
Hein said the credit union is proactive and passes any new information to its members. The credit union also helps members when they are the victim of fraud by filing charges, changing account numbers, helping members contact the federal credit bureaus and replacing stolen cards.
By Jon Vanderlaan