HANCOCK COUNTY — Local police are looking for help identifying a man they believe is behind an uptick in credit card fraud cases in the county.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department has handled 15 reports of credit card fraud in the past 30 days, about three times the number the department normally investigates in a month, said Capt. Jeff Rasche, the head of the department’s investigations unit.

In each instance, the victim’s credit card information was stolen, but none of them reported having lost their plastic card.

Police have one suspect, and investigators have released a security-camera image of him at a grocery store, hoping the public can help identify him.

Rasche said the man could be connected to a large credit card fraud ring crisscrossing Central Indiana; they have traced the ring to credit card thefts in Avon, Brownsburg and other areas.

The suspect has been seen purchasing thousands of dollars worth of gift cards at grocery stores using stolen credit card numbers, Rasche said.

Police said they believe the suspect has collected more than $25,000 worth of gift cards since October.

Although the Greenfield Police Department has not seen an increase in cases recently, credit card fraud cases are some of the more common identity theft crimes the department handles, Lt. Randy Ratliff said.

The cases can be frustrating, Ratliff said. It is difficult to track down the thieves, as the cases often cross jurisdictional lines and sometimes even lead to criminals working outside the country, he said.

Investigators can only speculate about how criminals are stealing a person’s credit card information, police said. The thefts can be low-tech, like a dumpster-diver looking for old billing statements, and high-tech, such as computer hackers breaking their way into bank accounts, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Often, the thieves settle for something in between, such as using an electronic device called a credit card skimmer that captures victims’ names, PINs and credit card numbers after they swipe the card, Rasche said. These devices can store information from hundreds of people, he said.

Experts recommend residents check their credit and debit card statements regularly to watch for fraudulent transactions, according to the Indiana State Police. Many times, the cardholders do not realize their card numbers have been stolen until sizable purchases have been made, police said.

State police officers recommend shredding all documents that carry financial information, such as bank statements, credit card bills or ATM slips. Never give personal information, such as Social Security numbers or bank account codes, over the phone, especially to unsolicited callers, state police said.

Anyone with information about the recent credit card fraud cases in Hancock County is asked to contact the sheriff’s department’s investigations unit at 317-477-1199.

Protect yourself

– Don’t give bank account numbers over the phone unless you made the call to a company you know to be reputable. If someone purporting to be with a financial company calls you, call them back at a number you’re certain is legitimate.

– Carry debit and credit cards separately from your wallet; carry only the card you need for each outing.

– During a transaction, keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.

– Save your receipts to compare with your statement.

– Open bills when you receive them or check them online often; report any questionable charges.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

How you can help

Police need the public’s help identifying a suspect in a recent string of credit card thefts. A video surveillance photo can be found on the Greenfield Police Department Facebook page.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.