Chainsaws, Rogaine and X-Box consoles: these are a few of thieves' favorite things. So don't be too surprised if you get a phone call from your credit card company asking if you've suddenly gone bald.
Credit card fraud is on the rise, and organized crime rings have figured out many ways to steal your credit card and take it on a shopping spree at national chains such as Best Buy and Target. Most of the time, they're not shopping for themselves. Instead, they're looking for hot brands and popular electronics that will easily resell on the Internet or at street stands.
"The dumbest of criminals will buy a cell phone for themselves," says Joe LaRocca, senior advisor for asset protection at the National Retail Federation. "Most of them want merchandise that can be sold for a profit."
Criminals charged $15 billion to stolen credit card accounts in 2008, up from $12 billion the year before, according to California-based financial security consultants Javelin Strategy & Research.
Other items on the list of credit card thieves' favorite picks, according to the NRF:
Enfamil baby formula
Victoria's Secret lingerie
Add to that list big-ticket electronics such as televisions, stereos; pricey jewelry and watches; and gift cards which can be loaded up and resold without leaving a paper trail.
Thieves also have some favorite shopping outlets. Sources were reluctant to give names on the record, worried that they might be extending an invitation for more thieves to target those stores.
However, they agree that large national chains, known for their wide selection of goods and the anonymity they offer shoppers, are particularly popular.
Many large chains don't check ID to verify the cardholder's identity, and checking signatures rarely leads to a catch, since signatures can be easily forged.
As a result, criminals favor big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, as well as department stores that sell designer goods, such as Macy's.
Eric Hausman, a spokesman for Target Corporation disputes that criminals "favor" Target, but admitted that theft poses a significant problem.
"Organized retail crime is one of the biggest issues for us," he says, pointing out that Target is the country's second–largest retailer and therefore attracts heavy traffic from all kinds of shoppers.
Like most large retailers, Target relies on an electronic comparison of signatures -- which is done automatically on electronic signature pads -- to verify a shopper's identity.
"Generally speaking we do not check ID's," says Hausman, arguing that electronic signature verification is much more effective. "We're also concerned about the safety of our team members, and we don't want them to be handling a certain situation" that might put them in danger.
Other retailers did not return calls seeking comment.
In addition, Amazon.com is particularly vulnerable to fraud because it can't even verify signatures. Online merchants have more than double the rate of fraud of brick-and-mortar stores, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.
"The anonymity associated with remote purchases essentially means the merchant takes that payment on good faith," says David Fish, a senior credit card analyst at Mercator Advisory Group.