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Fighting Fraud

Identity theft harmful to businesses

October 11, 2009
By MIKE ZUMMO, The Leader-Herald

Evamarie Mraz got quite the education from what was supposed to be a large sneaker order.

Four years ago, Mraz, who owns A&E Sportswear in Johnstown with her husband Aaron, took an order of more than $5,000 from someone who said he was from a New York City youth group, and a month later, after the shoes were shipped, she got a call from the credit card company saying the card was reported stolen and the amount of the order was refunded to him.

A&E Sportswear never got back the money it lost.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Evamarie Mraz, owner of A & E Sportswear in
Johnstown, is shown at a credit card machine at the store Wednesday. Her business lost money as the
result of identity theft.

"It was a tough lesson learned," Mraz said.

Identity theft refers to fraud that involves someone pretending to be someone else in order to steal money or get other benefits.

Sure enough, that experience has changed the way A&E Sportswear has done business since then.

"I no longer take credit cards over the phone," Mraz said. "If I do, I ask for the three-digit code and the billing ZIP code."

She also said she tries not to punch the credit cards in by hand anymore because if the card is swiped, there is less chance that the credit card company will take the money from the business if the card turns out to be stolen.

Sen. Charles Schumer announced last month identity theft has cost the Capital Region more than $160 million in 2008 and has affected more than 33,000 people. Throughout the state, Schumer said identity thefts have risen by almost 25 percent in the last year alone and have cost upstate New Yorkers more than $1 billion each year.

"Identity theft is a scourge on hard-working Americans and it is a problem that is getting worse," Schumer said. "We must do everything in our power to make sure that criminals are not draining our bank accounts through the back door, and that companies are protecting private data in the most aggressive way possible."

Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Wally Hart said the chamber does its best to make members aware of all kinds of identity theft schemes that are out there.

"It's an issue," Hart said. "There's a lot of conveniences out there that are great for running a business, but you have to be aware personally and business-wise on how you protect yourself."

A 2007 report by the Federal Trade Commission showed identity theft has a significant impact on businesses.

Last year, an intrusion into the Hannaford Bros. supermarket chain computer system led to the thefts of customer credit and debit card numbers from stores in the Northeast, which included the store in the town of Johnstown and Montgomery County. About 4 million credit cards were put at risk due to the intrusion.

"You can have entire binders [with people's information], but you have to be careful about where they are and who has access to them," Hart said. "We have a policy at the chamber with a procedure to allow access to our banking and our computers. If staff changes, we have to make the changes on our computer."

Schumer is pushing legislation on the Senate floor, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act. It would tackle the growing problem by increasing penalties for stealing identities; requiring firms that experience a security breech involving personal data to notify consumers and the police in a standard fashion; and requiring companies to enact stricter policies to keep American identities safe.

Mraz said she would like to see changes made to better protect businesses against credit card fraud that could result from identity theft.

"The credit card holder whose identity is taken is protected by the credit card company," Mraz said. "They go back after the business far before they do anything else."

She said she's willing to give advice about identity-theft protection to anyone who walks through her business's door on West Main Street.



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