After a considerable amount of time and resources were allocated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stopping an ongoing credit and debit fraud operation, it appears officers' devotion has finally paid off.

According to the RCMP's Integrated Counterfeit Enforcement Team, authorities cracked a major debit and credit card fraud ring on January 21. The RCMP indicates that the ring had allegedly been stealing credit and debit card data from unsuspecting consumers throughout the country. To do this, investigators say they jury-rigged merchants' Pin Pads that store clerks use to enter credit card information to "clone" the data. The information obtained was then put on blank payment cards, with the funds being charged on victims' accounts.

Henry Tso, of the Greater Toronto Commercial Crime Unit, said the investigation and subsequent arrests was a team effort.

"With the assistance of York Regional Police Service, the ICET made these arrests," said Tso. "Arrests such as these remain an important priority for the RCMP and law enforcement around the globe."

The RCMP reports that seven men under the age of 25 have been charged with various crimes, including unlawful possession of credit card data, traffic in credit card data and commission of offense for criminal organization.

Officials with the RCMP indicate debit fraud and credit card losses remain a serious issue throughout the country, causing significant financial hardship for the individuals victimized.

Statistics compiled by the RCMP may help illustrate the extent of the issue. For instance, by the end of 2009, nearly 70 million credit cards were in circulation throughout Canada. Of these cards, more than 541,500 accounts were compromised through some type of fraud.

Credit card fraud statistics provided by American Express, MasterCard and Visa further exemplify how prevalent fraud has been. In 2009, an estimated $27.2 million of credit card funds was stolen. Thanks to heightened awareness and enforcement efforts, this total dropped to $22.8 million by 2010, a decline of more than 16 per cent.

However, what increased during that span was card not present fraud, meaning no card was actually swiped. This is how fraudulent transactions are conducted by telephone, internet or mail purchases. In 2009, credit card companies report CNP fraud totaled $140.4 million. But by 2010, that total jumped by more than 25 per cent to more than $176 million.

Credit card fraud is one of many credit card terms users may know generally, but not specifically. It's defined as the intentional stealing of credit card data in order to purchase goods and services. It's also considered fraud to charge a credit card that has been obtained by happenstance, such as by finding one.

When reviewing one's credit card statement, individuals may find transactions they didn't conduct. Should this happen, RCMP advises consumers to contact the credit card company directly, as the provider's phone number should be on the back of the card. In some cases, they may have simply forgotten a purchase they had made. But if not, the issuer may have the ability to freeze the card and prevent it from being used.

In addition, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada suggests that people always take precautions not to leave personal information out in the open, even at home. In addition, consumers should be careful who they give their personal information out to either in person, on the hone or online.

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