The following is a transcription of the radio interview of District Attorney THOMAS P. ZUGIBE from WRCR (1300 AM) held on Tuesday, May 19, 2015
POSSELL: Rockland County District Attorney Tom Zugibe, good morning, sir.
ZUGIBE: Good morning. Thanks for having me back again.
POSSELL: Oh, it’s our pleasure, but I wish you didn’t have to talk about the subject that we have today.
ZUGIBE: You know, I started my career in law enforcement here in Rockland as a prosecutor, believe it or not, over 35 years ago. And it’s amazing the difference in crime from then to today. And the biggest difference is back then, your crime was really, and I’ve said this before, it was mostly local. And when a crime occurred, there was a very good chance of identifying who did it and arresting somebody and prosecuting them.
In contrast, today, most of our crime is global. The people perpetrating the crime against our residents here don’t even live in this county or country. They can be on the other side of the planet.
So the good news is that the crime is nonviolent. We have a lot less violent crime in Rockland than we used to have. And most of it is preventable, the identity theft and a lot of the white collar crime, if you just know the basics.
The bad news is that if you don’t succeed in preventing it, the odds of catching somebody, arresting them, and prosecuting them are very remote, you know. So we have a big challenge.
I every week go out and speak to groups, especially senior groups, just to educate them so that they recognize it. And without fail, every time I do that, we’ll get a call saying, hey, exactly what you told us to look for we saw and we were able to recognize it and not fall for it, you know. So it’s a great thing.
I just finished going around to all the senior groups in Ramapo, just we have I think two left, with Chief Peter Brower from the Ramapo Police Department really just filling them in on what’s going on, not across the country, but right here in Rockland, so to be aware of it.
It’s just nonstop, the different variations. But you don’t have to really know a lot to avoid it. You know, as I told you before, identity theft is still the leading area that we’re seeing nonstop. There’s barely a person I know today that won’t tell you their credit card was stolen or something, that they’ve been a victim of somebody. So it’s something that people have to really take note of. Coming out of our malls and everything else, you’re seeing nothing but credit card thefts.
In the past, if your credit card was stolen, you knew it. Right? Your card was missing from your wallet. And what did you do? You called up the credit card company and you said, cancel it.
Today, nothing is missing. You don’t know that your credit card was taken. You don’t know that somebody has hacked into your account.
So there are ways to protect yourself, and that’s really what I want to just go over again probably for the tenth time on your show, just to touch upon those areas.
The way credit cards are being stolen today is one of two ways. They have skimmer devices where they skim, take all the information off the magnetic strip. You go into a restaurant, you pay for your dinner, and the waiter may swipe it through his own skimmer device on his belt and copy your information. And what they will do with it is they don’t have ‑‑ most of the locals don’t have the ability to make new credit cards out of it, but they will sell it to many sites online. They’ll upload them at the end of the night. They may have a couple of dozen cards they’ve swiped during the day and they upload them and they get so much per card. And the person who buys them can make new cards out of them and the next day be on the other side of the planet with a duplicate of your credit card. And that’s how it happens. You feel safe. Your card is safely in your wallet, you know. So it happens.
The same thing with ATM machines.
POSSELL: Could you see them doing it or is it just in good faith that you hand them the card and then they ‑‑ I mean, if you’re standing there, could somebody do it without you knowing it?
ZUGIBE: Yes. If they’re standing right in front of you, they have to swipe it through a device. It’s usually a devise sitting on their belt like a cell phone. You may not realize what they’re doing. Some of them are pretty good at it. They just have to turn away from you. You know, most of the time, they’re going back to the cash register with your credit card and coming back and you would have no way of knowing that.
POSSELL: You know in some restaurants, I noticed ‑‑ we were at Chili’s the other day and they have the credit card machine right there at the table, which I thought was ‑‑
ZUGIBE: Gives people confidence, I guess, so it’s not out of their sight.
POSSELL: Yeah. I didn’t mean to promote a certain restaurant. They don’t advertise here.
ZUGIBE: Right. But that’s really ‑‑ any step like that is a good thing.
Now, the good news is, again with identity theft and all that, you know, credit cards and ATM cards, and ATM cards are becoming more of a problem in the county the same way, is that the federal law protects consumers if you just know what the basics are. If somebody steals your credit, you know what, the credit card companies and the banks are on the hook for it, for anything over $50 so. Credit cards are actually pretty safe, right?
The problem is that the law says that once you find out that somebody is using your credit, you have a duty to let the banks know so they don’t continue to incur losses. But they go further and say, when you know or should have known. And when they say you should have known, they’re saying that you have a duty to find out at the earliest possible moment.
How do you do that? You read your bank statements, you read your credit card statements, you read your telephone statements. If you don’t, if you’re one of those people, and a lot of people do it, you pull it out of the envelope and you just file it in your file cabinet without going through the items and there is an inquiry on there that would have told you, hey, somebody has my credit, then you’re going to be on the hook for anything going forward, so that federal law goes out the window.
So just a basic crime prevention tool of checking your statements goes a long, long way in keeping you safe. It makes your credit card actually a very safe instrument. But if you don’t do it, it’s a very dangerous instrument because you could be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars. So it’s a simple item like that, but to this day, people still don’t do it.
So what do you do when you find out that, in fact, somebody has stolen your credit, somebody is using your credit card? What steps should you do? What steps should you take? You know, you’ve read your statements, you’ve picked it up.
Well, one thing I’m going to tell ‑‑ before you do it ‑‑ you know, a lot of people now get their information on the internet. You can set up all kinds of alerts online that will send you an e‑mail if you have an unusual purchase or over a certain amount. You could set the parameters of it. Great tool.
All right. So it happens anyway and now you find out that somebody is using your credit card. What do you do? Well, the first thing I’m going to tell people to do is immediately contact any of those three credit agencies, you know, Equifax, Experian, or Transunion, and put a credit alert on your account. And they’ll do it immediately. Immediately upon being notified, a fraud alert goes on notifying anybody about this credit card. And it really helps a lot.
And then, if it continues afterwards, you could actually get them to extend it to a long‑term one, to up to seven years, because you don’t know how far it was ‑‑ you know, your card was disseminated out there. So you have to be very, very careful with that.
The other thing to do is to get your credit report. You know, you’re entitled from each of those three credit agencies to one free credit report every year. That means every four months you can go to a different one and get an updated one.
POSSELL: Oh, wow.
ZUGIBE: Free. That’s not your credit score. That’s a credit report. Now, what’s on the credit report? Well, you know, every time somebody attempts to gain credit in your name, whether applying for a credit card or for one of these preapproved applications that they stole out of your mailbox or whatever, there is going to be an inquiry on that credit record and report. And you’re going to know when you look at your credit report, I didn’t apply for a new credit card, I didn’t apply for a bank loan, I didn’t apply for anything involving credit whatsoever. That shouldn’t be on there.
Reading your credit report could sometimes give you the earliest signs that someone’s attempted identity theft, trying to get credit in your name. And so it really goes a long way in doing that. So get your free credit reports, look at them carefully, study them going forward. Make sure that nobody is trying to get credit in your name.
If you’re the victim, notify the police and get a police report. That’s important a lot of times. A lot of credit card companies will say, well, did you report it to the police? Report it to the police. The police are not going to be able to solve it for you, but you want that report that was made that a crime had occurred.
And then once you get that report, you file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online. It’s an important item as well. It all serves just to protect you further and to put the credit card companies on notice.
So good news, a lot you could do about it. Bad news, there’s a lot of it and chances are most of us at some point ‑‑
I’ve been the victim of it as well.
ZUGIBE: I had an 1,800‑dollar debit on mine ‑‑ I think it came off of an online purchase, you know, where somebody grabbed my credit card through an online purchase, some, you know, less than reputable company. So there’s many ways to do it. But again, I say it over and over again, it’s safe as long as you do your part.
POSSELL: What about ‑‑ Meredyth has read stories about this over the last year or so. When you go to the ATM ‑‑ I go to the ATM a lot. You can understand why I don’t like to carry cash on me. So I use my ATM for just about everything or as a debit when I’m in stores. But you have to get some cash periodically. You swipe in the ATM and now ‑‑ see, you had a story not too long ago about them having some sort of a device on the machine.
ZUGIBE: Yes, and we’re seeing now more of them in Rockland County.
POSSELL: Oh, no.
ZUGIBE: Again, these are skimmer devices just like the portable ones, you know, that may be on a store clerk. These are now being affixed to ATM machines. You can’t ‑‑ it’s amazing. And if you see them, you’d swear they were made by the same manufacturer of that ATM machine. They’re the same color, same plastic. They go on there and it’s invisible. Unless you really know the looks of your ATM machine, you know what, you’re not going to know that there’s something there. Some people look at it and they say, that doesn’t look right.
And you know how they do it? They generally go in, they affix it to the ATM machine after the bank closes. And then they collect the data overnight. And then in the morning before the bank opens, they take it off because they expect that the bank personnel are going to recognize there’s an unauthorized device on that machine.
So how do they get the pin numbers, you know, your personnel identification number? They use remote pinhole cameras that they place above where you come in. So whether you’re walking in or whether you’re driving in, there’s a pinhole camera just taking down every person’s pin number as they enter it. So not only have they skimmed the information off the card, but they have the corresponding pin number to go along with it. So you have the whole package.
Again, the same thing there with banks. If somebody gets into your account and you didn’t authorize it, the banks are on the hook for it as long as you do your part. If someone hacks into your account or online and is able to get into your accounts and they steal money from you, it’s just like the old days, somebody forges a check in your name, guess what? That’s the bank’s responsibility, not yours.
But you have a duty to pick it up as early as possible and tell them. And a lot of these banks will scare people and say, well, we’re not sure if we’re going to be covering it or not. We’re not sure if you weren’t responsible. Nonsense. It’s the bank’s responsibility as long as you didn’t sit on information and not bother to tell them about it. So ATM cards, again, are safe as long as you do your part.
ZUGIBE: So do we have a couple of minutes just to touch upon a couple of other things? We’re still seeing a lot of these telephone scams that people are getting hit with. And every senior group I talk to have received them at least from one of these different approaches. And they’re all the same thing; the O & R scam, the IRS scam, the grandparent scam, all the same thing, just a different way in.
And what they do is, they call you, they try to catch you off guard, they try to scare you, they catch you in a weak moment for you to react.
The Orange & Rockland one is simply, you get a call from somebody claiming to be Orange & Rockland. And, mind you, it may read up on your caller ID as Orange & Rockland. They have the ability to spoof these sites. They could be calling from the other side of the planet, yet it still will read up as a local number or a local business. And they’re telling you, hey, you failed to pay your bill for several months now. We’ve dispatched trucks to your house to disconnect your service. And you’re arguing with them and you’re saying, wait a minute, that never happened. I pay my bill. Well, you could take that up with management. In the meantime, they’re disconnecting your service.
The one from the IRS is scarier. We’ve learned that you’ve failed to pay your income taxes or that you’ve evaded your taxes. We’ve dispatched agents to go over to arrest you. They’re on their way over to arrest you.
And then the grandparent one claims ‑‑ somebody calls up and says they have your grandchild, usually a police agency, and they need bail for them. They don’t want to talk to their parents. Send money. They’re in trouble here, down here, and we’re going to send them over to our prison if you don’t send the money.
All three of them operate off the same premise. They don’t give you a chance to think. They will not give you a call‑back number. They say, unless you wire us down $5,000 or get a Green Dot card or another method and we receive it within the next hour, we’re going to proceed with what we said.
If you pay us what you owe from Orange & Rockland, we’ll call off the trucks. We’ll give you one hour to make payments. If not, your service is disconnected.
If you want to avoid being arrested by the IRS, wire the money to us within this period of time and you will not be arrested. You can contest the charges later on.
Same thing with the grandparent. Unless you send that money, and immediately, your grandchild is going to be sent over to our prison. Very, very frightening.
You know, it sounds ridiculous. Who would ever fall for it? But you do. You’re caught in a weak moment. They rely on your emotions and your fear. And it’s really hard to think straight.
And I tell people all the time, just simply test it by saying, you know what, I thank you for calling me. Give me your number. I’ll get right back to you. They’re going to tell you, no, that’s not possible. As soon as somebody tells you you can’t get back to them, there’s no call‑back number, you know it’s a scam. One hundred percent of the time, it’s a scam. So, you know what, so as scared as you may be, just simply say, give me your name and number and I’ll call you right back.
POSSELL: Also, we got a call earlier ‑‑ because we’ve been talking about this all morning. Meredyth, what was the area code? It was 809 or 908, something like that. It rings into the Dominican Republic and it will cost you thousands of dollars on your bill.
ZUGIBE: Wow, wow.
POSSELL: This came from I think he said the Office for the Aging. And I wonder if this is a new one on you. Meredyth’s grandmother heard the sound of a kitten outside.
GLOVER: Yeah. She heard the sound of a kitten outside and decided not to go out because it was around 4 a.m. in the morning and it didn’t make sense. And then the next day somebody told her that people are recording on their phones the sounds of babies crying or animals crying to get you to leave your house so that they can break in or hurt you or whatever.
ZUGIBE: Wow. I haven’t heard that one. That’s a new one on me. Wow. Again, it’s just simple crime prevention. Just simply be prepared for those calls that come out of nowhere and just scare the living daylights out of you and force you to act somewhat irrationally.
And if you just simply act ‑‑ and you need to talk to somebody. If you get that kind of a call, immediately call up the police and say, hey, this is a call I got. What do you think? Or call my office. Or call your best friend. Someone who is not in the middle of it is going to say, wait a minute now. That’s a scam. Can’t you see it? Because they’re not connected to it.
So they operate off of surprise. And it works very effectively. You can’t believe the tens of thousands of dollars that people in Rockland County have been scammed out of using one of these three techniques. And its still going on. So it’s not like with all the publicity we’ve had on it that it’s making a difference. It’s having some difference, but it’s still happening because people are falling for it.
POSSELL: Well, I want to thank you. This is sobering. And this is discussed more often than you can imagine on this radio program and it’s obvious that it’s very prevalent everywhere, especially Rockland County. But the more aware people are, maybe the culprits will just get discouraged because Rocklanders are too smart and they won’t win.
ZUGIBE: Exactly. That’s what we’re hoping for. Well, good seeing you guys. Thank you.
POSSELL: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.