How can credit card companies catch thieves

crime: Woe if the donkey comes

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At first he wasn't particularly upset about the stolen credit card. Jonas W. Rügen (name changed) is a professional from the money industry, today he works as a lecturer on financial issues at a large Berlin educational institution. When sometime around the turn of the year 2010, unauthorized 100 euros were debited from him in London, he just "had the card blocked". He says: "I suspect the data was tapped during an online purchase that I made at the time."

But the matter was not over for Rügen. "Some joker set up a paid e-mail account with my data months later," he says. From now on he had to deal with bills and expensive debt collection claims. A lot of work. Identity theft, that's what criminalists call it. In Germany this is still in its infancy. In the US, identity theft is already so rampant that it is estimated that one in twenty residents is affected. Some Americans take out insurance against it.

With Jonas W. Rügen it was the case that his credit card details were not only revealed to a lone thief. Somehow they ended up with credit card dealers who still send them around today when they advertise their goods: Look, this is what it can look like when you buy the data of a German credit card victim from us! The data record consists of Rügen's name, credit card number and term, secret number on the back, address, telephone number, e-mail, employer, password. A scammer can do a lot with so much information.

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At the banking association, a press spokesman asserts on request that "credit cards are already a secure means of payment", also on the Internet, in relative terms. Apparently, the number of card thefts has even decreased in the past two years since banks introduced new security codes on the back of cards. But that is only temporary, say critics of the credit card industry - the trend towards fraud is back again.

It has to be said: the fraudsters have never been as adaptable and resourceful as they are today. The business with devices for the secret copying of credit card data is booming, and entire gangs of criminals roam the country manipulating ATMs with them. In cyberspace, hackers have achieved incredible success in tapping customer data from company databases, which they use or resell for credit card theft, capturing accounts or other fraudulent activities. It is regrettable that no one has precise figures on this. There are official reports - which are mostly a bit older and only reflect a fraction of reality - as well as surveys and estimates. Even the Federal Criminal Police Office suspects a huge number of unreported cases in cyber fraud in its latest "IuK-Kriminalität-Bundeslagebild".

At least criminalists and computer experts at security companies understand better and better how the digital underworld works. They rarely come across lonely hackers or small crooks there; but rather on organizations based on the division of labor. Hackers breaking into computers. Programmers who use computer viruses to make hacking easier. Data center operators who are good at hacking.