Central Georgia's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports, and more | Macon, Georgia | 13WMAZ.com

How to protect yourself from identity fraud

Swiping a credit card or debit card is how some pay for almost everything these days, but the convenience comes with risks.

A Macon man was recently convicted of 12 counts of identity fraud in a Jones County court room.  Joshua Barlow was sentenced to 24 years in prison for buying a Jones county man’s stolen debit card number online and using it at three Macon Walmarts.

Swiping a credit card or debit card is how some pay for almost everything these days, but the convenience comes with risks.

“You can lock your door to keep your house safe, or you can lock your car to keep your car safe, or you can even lock your phone to prevent people from getting in,” Jones County Senior Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin said. “The problem is that there’s nothing to lock when your information’s out in cyberspace and the likelihood is that somebody already has your information, so you just have to be on the look to make sure nobody’s using it.”

She prosecuted the case against Joshua Barlow.

She says criminals usually charge small amounts at places we all shop at like Walmart.

“Mr. Barlow was found with cards that you use to magnetically open hotels,” Baskin said. “Those door keys have a magnetic strip on the back, and when we looked at those strips, a number of them held credit card numbers, so he didn’t need an actual credit card, all he needed was a number.”

The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips to help you stay safe when you a payment card.

  • Keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number to report fraud for each company in a secure place.
  • Don’t lend your card to anyone — even your kids or roommates — and don’t leave your cards, receipts, or statements around your home or office. When you no longer need them, shred them before throwing them away.
  • Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. If you’ve never done business with them before, do an online search first for reviews or complaints.
  • Carry your cards separately from your wallet. It can minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet or purse. And carry only the card you need for that outing.
  • During a transaction, keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.
  • Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
  • Save your receipts to compare with your statement.
  • Open your bills promptly — or check them online often — and reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.
  • Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
  • Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling.
  • Don’t write your account number on the outside of an envelope.

“Just recognize the fact that, unfortunately, in this digital age, that may not be enough. Vigilance and watching over your money and watching all over your accounts is probably the best thing you can do for yourself," said Baskin.