Raleigh, N.C. — Fraudulent credit card charges are more common at holiday time, so North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper advises that consumers monitor their accounts and read statements carefully.
"People are very busy at the holiday season, there's a lot of information flying around, and so people are more vulnerable to these thieves who seem to come out this time of year to take advantage of the situation," Cooper said.
Thieves have a number of methods to obtain credit card numbers from unsuspecting consumers – from online scams to camera phones at the grocery store.
Cooper suggested checking bank and credit accounts online frequently and notifying companies right away if something looks wrong.
"The good thing about credit cards is you aren't liable for most of the (fraudulent) charges," Cooper said. "The real danger is if someone takes out a credit card in your name and you don't know about it."
Identity theft also tends to jump around Christmas and New Year's, but putting security freezes on accounts at all three credit bureaus can help prevent it, he said.
It's also a good idea to take advantage of free credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion all consumers are eligible to obtain once each year, Cooper said. Reports can be ordered at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Steve Kefalas learned these lessons the hard way. A thief stole his credit card number for a $2,500 shopping spree.
"What they usually do is they'll buy stuff online so they don't get caught," Kefalas said. "It's easier for a thief to just do it online and ship it somewhere else than to go into a store and do it."
Kefalas wasn't liable for the charges, he said. Neither was Al DiLorenzo, whose credit card number was stolen for the second time last month.
The experience has taught him to be more careful and keep a close eye on his accounts.
"You just can't take it for granted. It's a faceless enemy," he said. "They're out there, and they'll pick your pockets."