Protecting personal information from fraud and identity theft seems to be an increasingly uphill battle, but as scammers, hackers and con men come calling there are methods to reduce the risk of personal information from being stolen.

Protecting personal information from fraud and identity theft seems to be an increasingly uphill battle, but as scammers, hackers and con men come calling there are methods to reduce the risk of personal information from being stolen.


"There’s no one way to absolutely guarantee that your information won’t be compromised," Sherman Police Sgt. D.M. Hampton said. "You just have to minimize risk, and the more that you do to minimize risk the better off you are of keeping your information safe."


While sensitive personal information like social security numbers and bank accounts are often targeted, Hampton said the most common crimes related to identity theft and fraud deal with credit and debit card abuse.


"Usually a lot of what we see is perpetrated from a family member, a friend or an acquaintance who is able to get that particular debit card or credit card and go use it," Hampton said.


Every time a credit or debit card is used presents an unavoidable risk of that number being stolen but some encounters present greater risks than others.


Emily Crow, marketing director of Texoma Educators Federal Credit Union, said while the physical card is rarely stolen, the numbers on credit or debit card are often sought out by criminals. Card owners don’t know whether a number is compromised until after fraudulent charges are placed. Crow said criminals can create cloned cards from scanning the magnetic strip of a card into a personal device or simply writing the information down. Sometimes the individuals skimming cards sell the numbers online or to other criminal rackets.


"Don’t let your card out of your sights, if at all possible," Crow said. "If you’re at a restaurant and they need to take your card away to pay, I would try to pay cash."


When a card leaves the owner’s sight, an opportunity is presented for the card number to be compromised. Crow advised to never give out card numbers online unless a website is reputable and known to be secure and to never give it out over the phone.


"Definitely don’t give your card information over the phone to anyone, especially if they called you," Crow said. "No reputable institution is going to call you to ask you for that information. We already have it."


Hampton said only a handful of scams exist but delivery methods behind those scams can be numerous. Many scammers target older generations who they see as easier targets, he said. Recent phone scams have circulated with individuals calling who claim to be a figure of authority such as a utility company worker, credit card employee or bank representative to try to elicit personal information. Authorities said the rule of thumb is people shouldn’t give away personal information unless the caller can be verified.


Eventually, personal information will need to be released to certain entities. Hampton said anywhere personal information is stored or accessible is only as secure as the people working around it.


"If you’re going to buy a house, if you’re going to buy a car, if you’re going to open up utilities, you’re going to give that information out," Hampton said. "They just need to educate themselves on where they’re giving that information and who they’re giving it to."


Banks and credit card companies have made strides in identifying fraudulent charges and quickly putting them to a stop. Card owners are not responsible for verified fraudulent charges and are usually reimbursed within a couple of business days.


Recently, card companies have begun migrating to cards equipped with a computer chip that add an extra layer of security. The little metallic square chip on new credit and debit cards create safer transactions by eliminating the need to swipe the magnetic strip, which is often the means through which the card is compromised. The chip on the card creates a single use, unique transaction code for each purchase so the data left behind cannot be used again.


"It’s something they have done in Europe for years and I’m really excited about it," Crow said. "It makes it a lot harder for someone to steal your card information and make a fake card. It makes each transaction a lot more secure."


Online banking options have made it easier for customers to keep track of charges and locate anything suspicious. Crow said if fraud is found on an account, that institution is going to call its customer. She recommends confirm that banks have the correct contact information. If a bank or card company can’t make contact with the card owner, they may freeze the account until possible fraud can be verified.


If a charge doesn’t look right, Crow said consumers should call the bank or card company. The quicker a fraudulent charge is reported, the quicker additional fraudulent charges can be stopped and a new card can be issued. Hampton said people should have a plan and know the numbers to call when fraud comes up.


Crow advise to be weary of social media posts asking to tag best friends, name first pets or name the first school attended, which could be answers to account security questions.


"Be careful about what information you give out to perfect strangers online even if it seems innocent because you could be using it as a secure question," Crow said.


The Sherman Police Department said it appreciates residents submitting tips if they come across scams, but police reports can only be filed for scams if actual monetary loss is involved.