HARRIS COUNTY -

Prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney's Office say with more people out shopping and spending this holiday season they expect more thieves to be skimming credit cards.

Think of how many times a week you hand your credit card over to a complete stranger. At restaurants, at the check-outs. Now check out how quickly your information can be skimmed or stolen.

In less than a second, one tiny device captured all of the information on a prosecutor's credit card.

"It'll show the credit card number. It'll show the expiration date. It'll show the 4 digit code. It'll have the name on the card," said prosecutor Ed McClees Harris.

That credit card skimmer can store up to 3,000 card numbers. They're so small, tThey can fit in a thief's pocket. But that thief might not be who you suspect. Think about your friendly waiter at bars, restaurants, and other places where an employee will have access to a customer's credit card.

Online we found card skimmers for sale on Craigslist and eBay, proving their easy to obtain. McClees says they're easy to operate.

"The problem is there are legitimate purposes for credit card skimming device," he told us.

Small business vendors use them to process credit card payments, but with the busiest shopping and buying season hours away, officers want you to keep your eye on your cards as much as possible.

Investigators say the best advice is to use cash when possible. They also say you should check your credit card statement frequently for fraudulent charges. The sooner the fraudulent activity is reported, the easier it is for detectives to trace who may have skimmed your card.

To avoid becoming a victim of credit card skimming, authorities offered these tips:

  • Use cash whenever possible.  Not only is cash a way to make purchases without accruing credit card interest, but it is also the safest way to pay for restaurant and bar tabs.  Cash cannot be skimmed.
  • Never give your credit card number, social security number or any other identifying information in response to an unsolicited email or telephone call. 
  •  Constantly check your credit card statement.  All major credit card companies offer the ability to check credit card statements through the internet.  If you see any purchases on your credit card statement that you did not make, immediately make a police report and notify your credit card company.

Some skimming is more low-tech with business employees just taking pictures of your card with their cell phones. Police say if you see anything suspicious like that, you should report it immediately.