Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America and as holiday shopping begins credit card users are being warned.
Suffield resident Angela Cremins said she felt shocked and violated after receiving a letter from a collection agency called Convergent.
The letter said if she forked over about $800 she wouldn't be reported to a credit agency for her late electric bill in Texas.
“I thought it was junk mail from an electric company trying to solicit new business,” Cremins said.
She said the reason she disregarded the letter was because she has never lived in Texas and had never opened up an account with Reliant Energy.
She ultimately realized it was a sign that her identity had been compromised and Cremins contacted Suffield police who in turn contacted the electric company.
“I heard a recording of a woman saying she was me on the telephone giving my date of birth my home address,” Cremins said regarding what detectives discovered.
It turns out the thieves had also taken over her Amazon account.
When she looked at her credit card bill she saw fraudulent charges from Amazon for a Kindle.
She immediately contacted her bank and canceled all of her bank and credit cards.
“It's scary to know all of our personal information is just out there,” Cremins said.
She is just one of the nearly 10 million people who have had their identity stolen by fraudsters and it's only becoming a bigger problem.
Within the last year Target and Home Depot have joined a growing list of companies who have been hacked and had personal information for millions of customers stolen.
Credit card companies have taken notice and recently began distributing EMV or ‘chip' cards to combat the problem.
“The reason why EMV technology hasn't come to the United States sooner was because there wasn't a fraud problem like there was in the rest of the world,” said Greg Boosin of MasterCard.
At first glance the chip cards look like a common credit card, but closer up the cards have a microchip right on the front.
Instead of swiping a card customers can dip their card at the credit card terminal and then put in their pin or signature.
“What happens is the transaction data is transmitted but it's done so with a unique code per transaction. So no two transactions are alike,” Boosin said.
This differs from the data that's stored on the traditional cards that are typically found in a wallet or purse.
“Consumers have become very familiar with swiping their card. What they're doing is the terminal is pulling data off a magnetic strip. That's static data - it doesn't change,” Boosin said.
MasterCard said the data on the card is not only harder to steal but if the information is stolen it will be more difficult to use.
Current MasterCard customers are being given the new cards as their old ones expire.
The company hopes to get this technology to the majority of their customers by next year.
“Terminals at Walmart, Target, Sam's Club have already changed over to these new chip terminals,” Boosin said.
The company said fraud could be reduced by up to 75 percent and is welcomed news to people like Cremin who got her chip card over the summer in the mail.
Cremin said she is also making sure to check every piece of mail regularly to ensure her identity remains hers.
“I open everything no matter how junky something is,” she said.
Anyone looking to obtain a new chip card can find the phone number on the back of their current credit card to request one.
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