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Scam-central Florida leads country in credit card fraud

Despite the shift to new chip-enabled credit and debit cards to thwart large data breaches, some experts think credit card fraud will increase with a rise in online fraud. [File photo: The New York Times]

Despite the shift to new chip-enabled credit and debit cards to thwart large data breaches, some experts think credit card fraud will increase with a rise in online fraud. [File photo: The New York Times]
Published Jul. 27, 2016

Florida doesn't have to worry about losing its reputation as a haven for scamsters and fraudsters of all stripes.

With nearly double the rate of credit card fraud complaints nationwide — and a 130 percent leap in complaints just since 2011 — Florida is retaining its crown as the credit card fraud capital of the country for the second year in a row.

That dubious distinction comes from a new analysis by consumer research site Value Penguin based on complaints filed to the Federal Trade Commission over the past 10 years.

The report cited some troubling trends nationwide. Chief among them: a record 70,000 credit card fraud complaints were submitted to the FTC in 2015, up a whopping 41 percent over the previous year and back toward levels seen in 2009 during the Great Recession.

Report author Robert Harrow, an analyst with Value Penguin, said he didn't dissect the root cause of the rise. "But if I had to hazard to guess," he said, "I'd say the spike in credit card complaints is probably due to the large number of breaches that have been happening these last couple years."

Mass data breaches such as well-publicized cases reported by Target and T.J. Maxx have been on the rise, particularly since 2012. And it's not just retailers that have been targeted. Harrow noted, for example, a breach at the University of Central Florida in February which jeopardized personal information of some 60,000 students and staff members.

Experts have predicted that new chip-enabled technology on cards should put a significant dent in the mass credit card data thefts. In fact, the recent spike in using stolen credit card information and manufacturing fraudulent cards may be tied to thieves trying to capitalize before the new technology makes using that information for repeat transactions more difficult.

So does the roll-out of chip technology mean FTC fraud cases will likely drop?

Harrow isn't betting on it. Rather, he predicts that will be more than offset by a rise in online fraud "which is why we're not likely to see a dip."

His top tip for consumers to protect themselves: "Never sacrifice security for convenience."

When shopping on Amazon or any other online site, for example, it's tempting to store your personal information for a quicker check-out next time. But every time you do that, you put yourself at risk of being a victim if that company's server is breached. Instead, re-enter your information for every purchase.

A few other tips:

• Don't readily give out personal information over the phone to callers or respond to emails with info even if it sounds legitimate. It's safer to call back at a verified number.

• Monitor your monthly credit card statements closely, a practice that some consumers let slide in an era of auto-pay.

• Don't let your mail stack up. Online and over-the-phone fraud aren't the only ways to steal personal information.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffMHarrington.