As Juana Martinez, 25, explains in the “undercover” video she posted to YouTube, she believes her credit card was stolen by a Starbucks barista when she went through the drive-thru on New Year’s Day. Martinez, a military wife living in Lakewood, California, said the 19-year-old Starbucks cashier copied her credit card and used it to buy $200 worth of groceries. Martinez says that because of this fraud, she was unable to pay her family’s rent. After the Starbucks barista was allegedly caught using the stolen card number on camera at the grocery store, Martinez decided to go back to the scene of the crime and confront her in person. Martinez’ exchange with the alleged credit card thief is now going viral after being posted to YouTube, with 3 million views and counting.
This confrontation is buzzing through the Internet because it’s a scene almost every credit card owner has fantasized about. In our increasingly digital world, credit card fraud and identity theft are no longer the exception — they are becoming the rule. According to Gemalto’s Breach Level Index 2014 report, more than 1 billion data records were compromised in 2014 at a 46 percent increase from the previous year. Most of the time, random hackers are responsible for the credit card data breach, but in cases like Martinez’, we can see this fraud occur in the retail sector (roughly 11 percent of the time). In 25 percent of cases, a data breach may occur when a credit card is accidentally lost.
To make matters worse, the United States is a big hot spot for credit card fraud. A 2015 report from Barclays showed that 47 percent of the world’s credit card fraud happens in the U.S., even though Americans are responsible for only 24 percent of the total credit card volume. It’s no wonder credit card users like Martinez are deciding to take the “citizen’s arrest” approach — not only is it inconvenient to have to cancel everything and wait for new cards to arrive, but it can be downright infuriating when a credit card thief steals the money you need to pay your bills.
So what are the millions of victims of credit card fraud and identity theft to do? As badass and fun to watch as Martinez’ encounter was, most credit card companies don’t recommend the direct approach. While many financial experts believe the U.S. fraud overload is related to a slowness in adopting the global credit card standard EMV, requiring credit cards to carry computer chips to authenticate, there are still several key things you can do to protect your money and your information.
The FTC advises to never give out your credit card or bank account numbers over the phone unless you’re buying from a reputable business. It also helps to carry credit cards separately from your wallet in case a wallet or purse is stolen. And as we learned in Martinez’ case, it’s critical to keep an eye on your credit card during every transaction — if at all possible, don’t let it out of your sight. In our digital age, it’s also important to watch what you say on social media. Researchers discovered in a 2015 MIT study that leaked information from only four purchases could leave you susceptible to credit card fraud, including copies of recent receipts or an Instagram photo of a new iPhone, for example.
When and if the inevitable occurs, you can still put out the fire before a credit card thief maxes out your account. Most credit card companies have protective measures in place to freeze accounts and reimburse funds, which is why it’s a must to contact your provider immediately if you suspect fraud. Experts also recommend regularly checking your free annual credit report in case any other instances of fraud have slipped through the cracks. Victims of identity theft should contact all three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert as well as any current creditors to freeze all accounts.
The bottom line is that while what Martinez did is brave, it’s not necessarily recommended for victims of credit card fraud. Some type of data tampering happens as often as every 32 seconds, making it fairly unrealistic to confront each thief face-to-face. Instead, practice a good offense, and keep meticulous records of all credit transactions. The sooner you catch a credit card hack, the sooner you can minimize the damage that’s been done.
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