Most theft is random, you just happened to be in the path of a criminal, but not with the credit card thief, he or she selected you.
Research into the psychology of credit card fraudsters in the United States shows that these 'trust violators' as sociologists call them rationalise their crime, it's the old, "he made me do it" scenario.
"It's really important to understand this," says Paul Kent, managing director of SureSwipe, an independent credit card swipe machine company. "We train stores, medical receptionists and companies that use credit card swipe machines to understand the psychology of those who commit fraud. If you don't, then you become an easy target." And as South Africa and the world moves into peak season for credit card fraud - November and December - now is a good time to wise up.
Credit card fraud globally is dropping as chip and pin credit cards become the norm in most countries of the world, but what has increased is credit card theft or thieves persuading victims to voluntarily or involuntarily give up their pin, internet log-in details or the three figure security number at the back of each card.
"They need you to assist them to defraud yourself," Kent said, and it is surprisingly easy with $8.6-billion of credit card fraud happening globally each year.
The most common places credit cards are stolen are from the workplace or gym. "People feel safe at work or the gym, they trust those around them, which is precisely what a fraudster needs. The sort of person who commits fraud is not your average street-crook, they are often well-dressed, well-spoken and smart."
Kent said another common method nowadays was a phone call from someone with a pleasant voice claiming to be from your bank, "they may say they are running a security check on your account, or updating details. They will ask you to confirm minor details, which they will give you, for example, your address, your date of birth and similar details which they can find from your trash, or your Facebook or LinkedIn site. They then ask you to, for security purposes, read your credit card's expiry date, and so on, until they have all the details they need. They then start spending across the internet or anywhere that they don't have to physically present a card."
Credit cards with pins, like those in South Africa and most European countries make credit card fraud harder, but thievery is not recession proof, they'll find a way. The trend at present is more fraud being committed by internet, mail-order or telephone. "The level of sophistication involved in cyber-crime is also increasing; organisational details have become more valuable as a result of their content," Mark Eardley channel manager at SuperVision Biometric Systems said. Symantec, anti-virus software company, reported that in 2005, there were just over 100 cyber-attacks per year; today, that figure is 28 000 per year, he noted.
According to ITWebSureSwipe runs regular training courses for those who use its credit card swipe machines, "our clients are vigilant about fraud they don't want unhappy customers and they don't want to lose money. Fraud damages everyone involved. But we have found that while people may understand the measures they need to take, many still trust the wrong people. They expect criminals to look or act like the bad guys they see on television, they forget that for a fraudster to get close to you, he or she has to seem pleasant, ordinary, friendly, helpful, well-dressed and well-spoken. Sociologists call them 'trust-violators' for a reason, they need to win your trust to get the information they need to betray you and steal from you."
On Monday - we have tips for out to outsmart the fraudsters.