TAKING ACTION: Protecting yourself from credit card cloners

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the sentencing of a man they said was a prolific credit card scammer.

In a news release, the FBI said from 2014 to 2016, Daquan Rice, 23, of Syracuse, New York and several associates bought credit card numbers online from hackers in Russia, Pakistan, and Ukraine, who sell the information they steal. The FBI said Rice would clone the cards, print hundreds of new ones, and then use them to buy gift cards for cash.

We asked Elizabeth Garcia, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama, how you can protect yourself from scammers who may steal your card information. She said the best thing is to stay vigilant and be attentive to your accounts.

"The number will be bought and sold many times on the dark web and black market," Garcia said. "Scammers will have a field day with your credit card. You need to watch your accounts constantly. Read your statements if you receive paper statements."

She added that it may be even better to set up alerts for when your card is used. Online, you can customize that depending on amounts spent, or specific transactions. That way, you'll be able to catch unauthorized purchases more quickly.

If not, you can always get a free credit report with a credit bureau.

"You can check your report once a year with each of the three credit reporting agencies, so it's often a good idea to check it quarterly," she stated.

Garcia added that it's a good idea to also update your personal information on your bank account and card issuer accounts. However, she warns the best way to do that is on a verified website, or by going to the bank itself to be secure.

"That's the only way they'll be able to contact you if there is a legitimate problem," she said. "And, that helps them verify information about you as well."

There's one thing to watch out for with that though. Garcia said lately, scammers are calling people pretending to be the fraud department of a financial institution. She wants you to know that a bank your card company will not ask you to read out your own card number or give them your personal information when verifying a purchase.

"The scammer will try to get personal information out of a consumer: the credit card number, especially the last four digits. Address, telephone number. And once they receive that information they can use it all to make credit card purchases without ever having to use the credit card itself," she said. "If you receive a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a fraud department, know they will already have all the information they need to identify you. Your bank should not have to ask you to repeat the credit card number they are referring to or your social security number. If it's the legitimate fraud department, they will already have that information."

Since it's the holiday season we also asked Garcia about gift cards. Should you take the same precautions with those? She advises that you should treat your gift cards like cash, or credit cards. After all, they're money.

Garcia recommended using gift cards relatively quickly after you are given them.

"Either register it if that's required, or use it right away. Because nowadays it is very easy for scammers to go into stores, take the codes off the back of the card, put it back on the shelf and cover up where they've removed the scratch-off portion, and they can then have access to your card and completely wipe out the amount on that and go on a shopping spree," Garcia explained.

She said if your money is wiped from a gift card by a scammer, lost, or stolen it may be hard to get that money back.

"You can certainly report it as a theft, but it's not likely-- not impossible, but not likely-- that you'll get the money back," she said.

Click here for more Federal Trade Commission advice for holiday gift card spending.

When shopping, Garcia said you should make sure you're always keeping track of where the cards are so you don't lose them.  She adds that a credit card is safer to use when shopping than a debit card.

"Credit cards have a lot more safeguards and consumers are usually liable for a lot less, should that card be compromised or stolen. So, think carefully before using a debit card for your purchases because you could end up losing a lot of money and have a lot of headaches trying to retrieve that money if you're not careful," she said.

These tips can assure your season is merry and bright, without a chance of scams.