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Why card theft victims can't view store security tapes

By  |  Published: April 12, 2017

Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
I recently learned that my credit card information was used at a convenience store across town. I confronted the store manager and asked him to show me the camera photos to see if I could recognize the person who tried to use my card information (the card company notified me about the time and place that my card info could have been used). 

The manager said he would not show the video to me, but he said I should go to the police and file a report. I went directly to the police, and they said that if they get their hands on the video that I would not be allowed to look at it because I might become angry and shoot that person. 

How would I be of any help if I can’t identify them? Is there any way the public can be proactive in trying to stop crime of this sort? I am tired of some who feel this type of activity is OK and just a part of life today. Is there any site on the web to help combat this type of crime as the police seem to be too busy to deal with this type of issue? 

By the way, I have discontinued the card, but I am having to contact all the companies where I have direct payments made since the card was canceled. – Hana

Answer

Dear Hana,
I am irate for you. None of this is acceptable in an ethical sense. However, what you were told is accurate. Security tapes are rarely provided to crime victims, for the reason cited. There is a fear it could trigger vigilantism.

The person who used your credit card at the store committed credit card fraud, which is defined as the unauthorized possession or use of someone else’s credit card or the account numbers and PIN. Unfortunately, though, such offensives are usually relegated to the bottom of the investigative barrel, and your power to push the legal envelope is limited.

Many criminals will keep the charges to less than what would constitute grand larceny. Depending on your state, that figure can be as low as a few hundred dollars and go up to over $1,000. Charging in excess of whatever that sum is would be a felony, which is a serious crime that can land the crook in prison. But if the person charges less, it’s usually just a misdemeanor, and the thief will probably get off with a proverbial slap on the wrist - if caught at all.

The best thing you can do is to be assertive with law enforcement. It sounds as if you have reported the crime to the police. Now, call and ask what the police are doing for you, and if they’ve made any progress. Cops who work this beat encourage victims to be proactive. Contact the department regularly and check in with the investigation. These crimes are ranked by seriousness and solvability, but becoming a squeaky wheel can sometimes help.

You can be proactive in stopping these crimes from occurring, or at least minimize damages if fraud occurs by doing the following:

  • Keep your cards under lock and key. Never let other people use your cards, and don’t leave your cards in a place where they can be stolen.
  • Opt for online instead of mailed statements. Make sure your passwords are un-guessable.
  • Only use your cards at well-known and secure websites. Look for "https" in the URL before entering any card information.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements carefully. Dispute problems immediately.
  • Add a fraud alert to your credit file. A fraud alert requires lenders to verify your identity before granting new accounts or increasing credit limits. You can also choose to freeze your credit file, which locks down your credit history so that any new loans or accounts can’t be opened unless you "unfreeze" your credit.

Thankfully, excellent organizations such as the Identity Theft Resource Center are helping to combat the complacent attitude toward credit card fraud, as well as making life much harder for thieves. I’m glad you’re angry and are willing to fight. I wish more people would!

See related: 10 warning signs of ID theft, Familar fraud: When family and friends steal your identity

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Updated: 08-20-2017

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