Q: How can my rental company prevent credit card fraud? What are some tips to recognize whether a credit card is manufactured or altered?
Beth Eidman — Midway Car Rental, Los Angeles, Calif.
A: The No. 1 thing that all car rental agencies should avoid is a credit card that won’t swipe. If it doesn’t swipe, don’t take it. When manufacturing the credit card at their home, credit card thieves don’t know how to re-encode the magnetic strip.
So, the magnetic strip is just blank and won’t swipe. The thief may request a manual entry during the transaction.
If you look at the embossed credit card number and flip the card over where it needs to be signed, the last four digits should be printed in the signature field.
If you get a credit card that says “1234” in the signature box, but when you flip it over it says “5678” in the embossed account number, you should know that you have something that has been altered.
Another big thing to look for is a barcode on the back of the credit card. The barcode is used for prepaid/reloadable gift cards at a counter of a retail location. Credit cards aren’t issued with barcodes. Be aware that the “OneVanilla” Visa card is a prepaid card, not a credit card.
If you look at the front of a credit card, you can see and feel the raised numbers. The numbers on a prepaid card are printed, not raised. Thieves will use sandpaper to sand down these printed numbers. Then they re-emboss the stolen credit card account on top of the prepaid card’s printed numbers.
But the sandpaper will take away the smooth texture on the credit card. There will be fine scratches where the embossment has been done. They try to buff out the scratches, but it usually leaves a dull sheen on the card.
Credit card companies put a gold or silver material on all embossed numbers. This machine is expensive and hard to use, so thieves usually won’t use the silver material on manufactured credit cards. If they have the machine, the material will be applied poorly. It usually will not be applied evenly over the embossed numbers.
On the back of gift cards and prepaid cards, there is usually information about card balance or an activation fee, and many prepaid cards will say “not authorized for use outside the U.S.” I don’t know of a single credit card carrier that won’t authorize cards to be used outside the United States.
Thieves like the briefness of a transaction. They want you to focus on the credit card as little as possible. When I teach the rental industry, I teach them to try to have their rental agents hold onto the credit card and touch it and feel it — instead of setting it on the counter or on the computer screen.
The embossed numbers of a manufactured card will be different depths; the embossment can be uneven or crooked. After feeling hundreds of credit cards during transactions, customer service reps should be able to feel or see when one is bad. For example, they will notice if the spacing between the digits is different.
Focus on the credit card. You can question the customer about it: Why doesn’t it swipe? How long have you had this credit card? These customers will think that you are focusing on them because you know something is wrong, and they will become nervous or agitated. They will either leave the rental location or try to bring out a different card (that will also be manufactured).
To be safe, I would suggest either get a second opinion from your manager or deny the rental until they come back with another form of payment.
Every time a credit card is updated or changed in a customer’s online loyalty program profile, the next transaction needs to be face to face. If a thief has to keep coming into the rental office when changing credit cards, he or she will need to keep producing high quality credit cards to get past the counter agent before renting a car.
Kraig Palmer is a detective with the California Highway Patrol/San Diego Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT) and has worked over 100 fraud rental cases.
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