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Cyber crooks take thievery to new level

I had just pulled into the Herald’s parking lot Thursday afternoon with two pies from Grandma Yoder’s, the restaurant of fine Amish cooking in East Manatee.

For the record, the pies were Dutch apple and “very berry,” and they were intended for a newsroom potluck to mark the start of hurricane season.

Before I could get out of my vehicle, my cell phone rang and it was the fraud unit from my credit card company calling.

The caller asked about three charges that had just popped up on my credit card.

Yes, I said, the charge for the pies at Grandma Yoder’s was mine — but not the $6,000 charge at a Paris hotel, or a $1 charge for some Internet purchase. In fact, I’ve never been to France.

The fraud unit caller thanked me and said those two highly suspicious charges had been declined, and asked me to destroy my credit card. A replacement would soon be in the mail, he said.

You can’t imagine a more relieved fellow than one who has narrowly avoided being robbed long-distance.

It’s like some kind of electronic warfare in cyberspace. Hackers try to stealthily move in and take something from across the ocean, but are thwarted by counter measures. That’s pretty sophisticated on both sides of the equation.

It wouldn’t be the first time a thief has tried to take advantage of me.

But the previous occasions, I have to say I left myself open to thievery, and it didn’t take much sophistication to take advantage of the situation.

During the Vietnam War, I remember returning from R&R in Tokyo, and napping in the terminal at Tan Son Nhut Airport while I waited for a plane ride back to my unit. When I awoke, my new Canon 35mm camera was missing, along with my film with my photos from the Ginza and elsewhere. Lesson learned: Don’t let your camera or other valuables out of your grasp in busy airport terminals.

Several years later, as a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, I had a bicycle stolen. I rode that bike back and forth from our townhouse in Temple Terrace to the campus. Until one day I left it unlocked for a few minutes outside our front door. When I came back out, the bike was gone. Lesson learned: Lock your bike.

So, what’s the lesson learned from an attempted credit card theft? Don’t know. But there are lots of questions. How did the thieves get so close in the first place? And how does anyone run up a $6,000 hotel bill?

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.