Earlier this week, a Philadelphia man was convicted by a federal jury in Hartford, Conn. of using stolen credit cards and identity theft. What was unusual about this story is how Anthony Johnson and a female accomplice carried out the crimes.

The accomplice said Johnson would buy movie tickets that had films that were popular with women. Johnson then reportedly slithered like a snake across movie theater floors looking for partially opened purses and stole the credit cards.

He used the stolen cards to collect thousands of dollars in cash advances from Connecticut's two gambling casinos and make retail purchases of tens of thousands of dollars in Connecticut and elsewhere.

In a more common theft case in Oregon, thieves working in tandem snatched wallets out of women's purses while they shopped in a mall and spent thousands of dollars before the victims even realized their wallets were gone. One victim said she believes someone stole her card while she was trying to be helpful to a woman who kept questioning her about a sweater. The woman was part of the scam since she kept the victim occupied.

Within three hours, the tandem thieves charged over $24,000 on the stolen credit and debit cards.

This shows the kinds of measures thieves will take to steal your cards or identity. The most devastating cases occur when someone uses your information to open accounts or take loans in your name. In those cases, it can take a victim months and even years to get their credit restored and name cleared.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 10 percent of Americans have been victims of credit card fraud.

The leading type of fraud is counterfeit credit cards at 37 percent followed by 23 percent of cards being lost or stolen.

The most frequent point of contact for fraud is in email (48 percent) followed by Internet website at 12 percent and telephone at 10 percent.

The most common credit card thefts begin when a wallet is stolen. This can occur when victims leave their purses open and the wallet is exposed as in the above cases we cited.

These days, with so many more people shopping and doing their banking online, account numbers and passwords are constantly being released. To protect from having someone grab your information and going on a spree, always verify that you're on a familiar website with security controls before entering personal data.

Here are some other quick tips:

Ÿ Check your financial statements (bank and credit card) regularly, keeping an eye out for any unfamiliar activity, and if you find something irregular, report it immediately.

Ÿ If you're especially concerned about identity theft, consider freezing your credit report, which prevents hard inquiries without your permission.

Ÿ Be alert for phishing, a trick used to obtain your personal information. Scam artists use spam or a pop-up to mimic legitimate banks or businesses in order to grab your personal information, which they then use to access your accounts.

Ÿ Clear your logins and passwords. This is especially important if you've been working on a public computer. Change logins and passwords monthly.

These tips are valuable as the holiday shopping season approaches and more consumers are giving out their personal information.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]