Victim of 'electronic pickpocketing' speaks out

Area woman says she's taken steps to protect herself after theft

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - A St. Augustine Beach woman was shocked last week to discover thieves had attempted to make charges to her bank account, because she still had all her bank cards in her possession.

Barbara Cook (pictured below) said she believes she was a victim of something that's called "pocket surfing," "electronic pickpocketing" or "crowd hacking."

Experts say thieves use a device that looks similar to an iPad, waving it across someone's purse or pocket. The device uses a technology capable of picking up credit card or debit card numbers without seeing them.

"How could somebody do that to somebody else?" Cook asked. "This was not my primary account, so I was upset, but I know people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and if that went out, and they didn't catch it in time, they're not going to get food, they're not going to get rent, and I think it's horrible."

Cook said she just happened to check her bank account, and it was overdrawn. But she knew it should have money in it. She went to the bank and found out thieves had made two pending transactions of $105 and were trying for a third.

The charges were made at a Jacksonville Publix at times when Cook had been at work at the Betty Griffin House in St. Augustine — with her debit card.

Cook said the bank teller told her that she's not surprised.

"She said the pattern was they went as far as they could," Cook said. "They did a certain amount at once, and then they did it again, and then they did a lower amount."

Now Cook has picked up something to protect herself in the future — a new wallet called a "safe scan" with its own technology that makes it impossible for thieves to scan her credit card number.

"It's just trying to stay on top of technology somehow, when you don't think it's going to happen to you," Cook said.

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