Home > Identity Theft and Scams > Thieves Spent $10K Within Minutes of Stealing a Wallet

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How quickly can you spend $10,000? For alleged wallet thieves in California, it took only a few minutes. Their victim learned that the hard way.

Minutes after Deborah Leon’s wallet disappeared while she was in a busy restaurant, someone got $10,000 of gift cards at three Apple stores, CBS San Francisco reports. Thieves like to buy gift cards with stolen credit cards because it allows them to quickly commit the theft (before the cardholder or their card issuer notices) and spend the stolen money later. Leon didn’t know what happened until she got a call from her credit card company, after she left the restaurant, she told CBS.

The story doesn’t say when she noticed her wallet was missing, but for anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation, you need to get to a phone or computer as soon as possible. Check your accounts for unauthorized transactions. Even if your credit card company is quick to spot fraud, you may notice it sooner by checking account activity yourself.

If you think you misplaced your wallet at home or in a place no one will take it, that’s one thing, but if you think it has been stolen, you’ll want to contact your credit card companies and banks to cancel the cards in your wallet and get replacements. If your ID was stolen, you may want to contact the credit reporting agencies to set up a fraud alert, so you know if someone tries to open accounts in your name.

Leon said she was frustrated the store didn’t verify the identity of the gift card purchaser with the name on the credit cards. Even though the thieves would have had her ID also, it would have clearly not belonged to the person using it, she told CBS. Her credit card issuers covered the fraudulent purchases, but you can be held liable for up to $50 of unauthorized transactions on credit cards, and even more if it’s a debit card.

Point-of-sale security has long been a flawed concept for one big reason: humans. Cashiers deal with large responsibilities often at odds with each other — delivering good customer service and protecting the customer. People get irritated when they’re questioned at checkout, and if a cashier’s suspicions about a customer are wrong, they may lose not only the sale but a loyal consumer. Even if stores have policies about verifying a purchaser’s ID, they’re not always followed.

As much as we’d like to be able to trust a retailer to protect customers from fraud, you’re better off watching out for yourself. Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank and credit card issuers, so you’ll instantly know if someone else is using your cards without permission, and check your account activity regularly. You’ll also want to check your credit scores for signs of fraud. If a thief runs up a balance on your credit card without you or your bank noticing, it will be reflected in a lower score. To use your credit score as a fraud detector, check it regularly. You can get two of your credit scores for free with updates every 30 days on Credit.com.

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