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Card thieves having a nice day at stores

Today's subject: Identity theft.

Did you know that thanks to modern technology, you can rob someone in the light of day, right in front of store employees, and you don't need a gun, a wig or dark glasses?

A Sandy woman — we'll call her Pam — noticed her wallet was missing recently when she stopped at a McDonald's restaurant after work one afternoon. Gone were her wallet, $300 in cash, credit cards and Social Security card.

She immediately called her bank and was told that two transactions had been made on her card that day — one at a gas station and one at a Target department store, where the thief went on a weird shopping spree that netted a digital printer, a DVD and a pair of boxer shorts.

The next day, Pam and her husband watched Target's surveillance videotape and saw the thief at work. This is all he had to do: slide Pam's credit card into the machine, sign the receipt and walk.

Target couldn't have made it any easier if they had required employees to wear blindfolds and look the other way. There was no request by the cashier for an ID, which might have been useful since Pam is (a) a woman, (b) a tiny woman (5-foot-3, 110 pounds), with (c) fair skin, (d) shoulder-length blond hair and (e) no tattoos; while the thief was (a) a man and (b) a big man, with (c) black skin, (d) black hair worn in cornrows and (e) highly visible tattoos.

Translation: Pam and this man will never be mistaken for twins.

And yet the thief didn't need a disguise or a weapon or an empty pocket to shoplift the items. All he needed was plastic.

"Does that look like a female Caucasian to you?" Pam asked Target officials while watching the videotape.

It's not just Target. It is a rarity when any store requires an ID of a customer using a credit or debit card. It's easier to use someone else's credit card in this country than it is to buy liquor with cash.

Some stores don't even have cashiers anymore; you pay for the items at a machine. All you do is punch a few numbers into the machine. You don't even have to open your mouth or sign anything.

Is this a great time to be a thief or what?

Target officials had videotape of the man in part because, as they explained to Pam, the thief had been in the store previously, and they considered him suspicious. Good thing they were watching him closely. The clerk put the purchases in a bag and handed it to him.

This is called full-service stealing.

"All they cared about was whether he stole something from their shelves," says Pam. "How hard would it be to check an ID?"

The thief, who was arrested weeks later after he used another woman's credit card at another Target store, claimed that he walked into Pam's workplace and stole her wallet from her purse. The rest was easy.

"I've always been one of those people who thought it couldn't happen to me because I am so careful," says Pam. "But it did, and it was awful. It could have been worse, though. If I hadn't stopped at McDonald's I wouldn't have known till the next day, and all of the money for my daughter's wedding was in that account."

The nightmare isn't over. Her stolen credit and Social Security cards haven't been recovered. For years, she and her husband must watch their credit reports to ensure that no one has used them to secure loans or make some other financial transaction.

"Someone out there probably has them," says Pam. "That's a creepy feeling."


Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesday. Please send e-mail to drob@desnews.com.