NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, concerns over credit card fraud worsen.

News 2 spoke with Robyn Householder, President/CEO of Better Business Bureau in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, about the recent increase in this type of crime.

“Even in just our market, we have seen a significant uptick in consumers reporting credit card fraud. It’s actually a 27% increase just since the beginning of the year. So, it’s pretty substantial.”

Householder also said the pandemic has changed consumers’ shopping habits, which puts them at a higher risk.

“The U.S. Department of Commerce states that 16 to 17% of all shopping is going to be done online. What that does, is it gives scammers an incredible opportunity to take advantage of that. We are only going to continue to see this grow as the pandemic continues.”

News 2 also spoke with Chadwick Jackson Economic Crimes Prosecutor for Metro Davidson County. Jackson credit card skimming is one of the things he often sees.

“If you go up to an outside ATM that is not associated with your bank or any kind of gas or fuel pump, they put a device over the encoder, the reader, and that will then take your card information off the magnetic strip in the back. A lot of the times, it will be used by blue tooth, and it will send it wirelessly to someone else, and send it to someone in close proximity to where they are doing the skimming.”

Jackson told News 2 that this type of scam could be even more devastating to someone during the pandemic.

“Everyone is hurting enough from COVID. If you’re out of work, and relying on government support, and then this happens, and there is no way to recoup. Like I said, this is not 100% preventable, but you can mitigate some of the damage and at least not be financially devastated by it when it happens.”

Householder explained to News 2 that historically, seniors were the most targeted for scams, but that is no longer the case due to social media.

“Now that everyone is using their smart devices, we are seeing a much younger group fall prey. The age group that is constantly on their phone and used to instant gratification. They are not going to take a step back maybe and do their homework like they should. So, we are seeing a big up rise in that younger generation in that 25-35-year range that are getting targeted really heavily.”

An example of targeting this age group is the recent Netflix scam.

“You were getting an email or a text that said ‘hey you need to verify your information or your account will be cancelled.’ And they’re just putting in their credit card information right away. When in fact, it is not legitimate. They are much more apt to respond to something that is a pop up or a text because they are so used to communicating in that regard.”

Householder said that scammers are opportunists and will stop at nothing to try and get your personal information.

“They are going to look at every possibility to draw you in. Even if 50 people in the next hour say no, the one person says yes, made it all worth their time. One of the areas of growth we are seeing in addition to scams being more prevalent, is the way scammers contact you. I mentioned earlier robocalls are down, social media is up. That’s an area consumers have to be buyer beware in.”

Jackson said 2019 was a banner year for credit card fraud and the scams are not going away anytime soon.

“Scammers are getting very sophisticated. There are scammers out there trying to hack your computer or credit card. It’s an easy way for people to get money and that’s what they see. they think nobody is harmed by it but I do not see it that way. Customers that lose their money and cant buy the medicine they need to live, or buy their insulin, or pay their doctor bill are deeply impacted by this.”

Householder said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, certain products featured in ads seem more tempting than ever before.

“What the scammer is hoping to do is draw you in quickly. They offer you something that is a great price. For example, laptops are in high demand, right? Kids need laptops at school and people need laptops to work remotely, so there’s a shortage. So, what they do is they’ll run an ad for a great price on a laptop and guarantee shipping. What happens is that you either don’t get that product at all, or they use it to get your credit card information and put malware on your computer.”

Householder explained that credit card theft is simply big because of identity theft.

“What they are trying to do is access your funds. You might not know about it and go somewhere and your credit is denied. And you know, it’s a real nightmare to try and repair credit from this kind of activity. They are using your card to buy things they need, not that you need. Just from 2016-to 2020, we have seen credit card scams grow by more than 30%. It’s a big concern for us locally, and frankly across the country.”

There are a few things you can do to try and prevent being a victim of credit card fraud.

“First off, try to avoid it. Anytime you seen an ad, go directly to the company website and see if that deal is legit. They are also very good at coming up with names that are close to a company but not real. Make sure you’re looking for ‘https’ to know it’s a secure site. Use one card for all of your online shopping. You’re more likely to pay attention to charges that are accurate or not if you’re only monitoring one statement.”

Householder also recommends signing up for text alerts to your bank. This will tell you what your activity is so you can respond quickly if you see something that is not legitimate.

BBB Scam Tracker, Courtesy, Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee

“If you do fall pray to a scam, then let your bank know right away because their fraud department will help you get your money back. Report it to Scam Tracker, because what that allows us to do is track where scams are happening and hopefully help other consumers avoid the same issue. What a lot of folks don’t realize is the Federal Trade Commission uses the data from Scam Tracker.”

Jackson agreed and said the most important thing a victim can do is remain vigilant.

“First, report the transaction to your bank as fraudulent. Then you will have to fill out a police report and then if you think you were compromised online, you may need to change your passwords to your accounts and things of that nature. If they try to get a few dollars from you, shut it down. Go to the financial institution and do everything you can do to try and protect yourself.”

Householder said this is an important time to remind consumers about credit card fraud, as the holidays are just around the corner.

“We know that everyone again is going to change those shopping habits. They are not going in stores, they are going to be shopping online, so there will be a greater risk than ever before.”

And Jackson said he is proud to be a part of the fight against these scams.

“I still try to do as much as I can. At the end of the day, I am helping a victim. I am helping someone regain their confidence and regain their faith in society and hopefully their pain going through this. I wanted to be able to make sure that people know if that happens today, this office is here to help seek justice for them and pay for what they have done.”