MANCHESTER - A credit card scam has hit the area and I have been a victim along with several other residents in and around Manchester.

On Friday, Jan. 25 I took my routine lunch break at Bagel Works where I used by debit card to pay for my usual two cheese bagels with herb cream cheese. A short while after, while trying to by my sister her birthday present, my debit card kept getting declined. I tried again at Maplefield's with the same result - declined.

It was not until later that day, after work, when I made a call to the bank headquarters where my debit card is issued. I was told that the security measures on my debit card had kicked in because of suspicious activity. A short while later I was asked if I had spent $232.60 at a Wal-Mart in North Carolina and I simply replied, "I have never been there before."

Like many others in the area I was a victim of credit card fraud and I was completely taken back by the situation. I was speechless. I was told that my debit card would be canceled and I would be issued a new one within a week. I then had 90 days to report the incident to my local bank and that I would be reimbursed the $232.60 within nine days after an investigation.

I had a chance to talk to the President of The Works Bakery Cafe (otherwise known as Bagel Works in our area), Richard French, as to how his stores might have been "hacked" and what steps they are taking to prevent future card fraud.

"We first found out because we have a lot of caring and loyal customers and staff who brought this to our attention. A staff member's card had been potentially compromised which led us to begin an investigation," said French.

Something French noticed is that "super-regulars," as he likes to call his loyal customers, were compromised more than once, along with staff members who eat lunch at the bakery.

In the meantime, The Works is looking into increasing their measures of security, but was unable to divulge further information on how because of the investigation and also to protect them from becoming hacked again, said French.

"We are working with federal investigators, not really local and state police," said French. "We have been asked not to disclose what federal agency we are working with."

French discussed with me a couple interesting facts that have led to the advancement of Cyber-crime and an increase use of people using their credit and debit cards more rather than cash.

"Cyber-crime is growing exponentially," he said. "Very few that you talk to these days have not been compromised. We all wanted this convenience of a cashless society and we are going to pay for it somewhat."

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's, FBI, website, a 2010 cyber-crime report in Vermont, the most recent numbers available per state, said that there was 528 complaints of cyber-crime. 11 percent of that ended up as credit card fraud.

These criminals usually drain someone's bank account by more than $1,000. In the report, 31 percent of those reporting cyber-crime lost between $1,000 and $4,999.99. The median loss for credit card fraud was reported at just over $133.

According to Cybercrimewatch.com, 73 percent of Americans have experienced some form of cyber-crime. Twenty-five percent of those cases remain unsolved.

French also pointed out that the use of credit and debit cards to pay for food and other items has become much more frequent and that people tend not to carry around cash like they used to.

"Five or seven years ago we, as a business, had hardly any credit card transactions. It was minuscule," he said. "It is more than half of every transaction we have now."

According to the Manchester Police Department, more than a dozen cases of credit card fraud have been reported in the Manchester area over the past two weeks. Several people commented on the Journal's Facebook page that they had been victims of credit card fraud as well. But it is likely many more were not reported to the police. The police are also working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service to try and find those responsible.

So, how can this problem be prevented? I had the chance to talk to Lori Gazzillo, a spokesperson at Berkshire Bank, who sent me towards a website that the bank directs customers who have experienced the problem of credit and debit card fraud about how these types of things work and what can be done to try and prevent them.

There are steps the banks website provides that can help someone in preventing identity theft from occurring. Since debit cards are much more dangerous to use than credit cards because a debit card drains money directly from a persons bank account, and since it was my debit card that became compromised, I will focus on debit card safety.

According to the Berkshire Bank's website, monitoring your debit card is extremely important in preventing debit card fraud. Notifying your bank who you travel and will be using your card helps the bank track the use of your card. This way, when your card is used in a way that it out of the ordinary and you did not notify them, they can respond much more quickly to the problem.

Beside keeping in contact with your bank on a more thorough basis, the only thing an individual can do is to be more aware of the risks. Using your credit or debit card less for online purchases, not giving out card information unless absolutely necessary, and checking your environment while using your card are all ways to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.

Both French and Gazzillo said that the use of a "skimmer" is the most common way these criminals extract your credit and debit card information.

A "skimmer" is a small device that a suspect puts over a card slot, which records the magnetic strip as the card passes through, extracting the card information. These skimmers can be used on any card slot from restaurants to gas stations and I, for one, will be on the look out for them any time I use my card.

In the end, I guess it could have ended up much worse for me. Sure, my bank account was drained by more than $230, but it was caught quickly. The security measures on my card kicked in and I was able to act fast to stop the problem. I was able to receive a new card that was uncompromised and I was able to get refunded the lost money through the Berkshire Bank, which I greatly appreciate. Two things are for sure, I will become much more aware of when I use my debit card and most likely start to carry more cash around and I will check my bank statements daily to make sure this doesn't happened to me again.