NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Nashville woman was surprised to recently discover that someone had stolen her wallet while she was grocery shopping, but she was shock by what happened in the minutes after she noticed the theft.
In a matter of minutes, the thieves had racked up thousands of dollars in credit card charges.
"I'm at the register to pay and my wallet's not in my purse," Jennifer Puryear described.
She was shopping at the Kroger in Green Hills when someone stole her wallet. Within minutes, Metro police said a man and woman, captured by surveillance cameras, were doing some shopping of their own with Puryear's American Express card.
Puryear said that, as soon as she realized her card was gone, she called the credit card company.
"And they said, 'You haven't been at Target?' And, I said, 'No, no, I haven't been at Target.' And they said, 'Oh,'" Puryear recalled.
Detectives said the young couple worked quickly.
From Kroger, they immediately headed to the White Bridge Road Target where they charged nearly $10,000 to Puryear's account.
Their next stop was the Target in the Nashville West shopping center, where they spent another $8,000.
In all, they racked up more than $18,000 in charges in less than an hour.
Puryear said she was truly shocked.
"Speechless! I mean, even now, I'm speechless," she said.
According to American Express, the thieves swiped Puryear's card a dozen times in those two stores, buying mostly cash and gift cards.
"It's like a money laundering that's happening right there very easily," Puryear remarked.
Sgt. Michael Warren of the Metro Police Fraud Unit said, "They didn't roll out of bed this morning and decide to become a scam artist." He added that these two thieves knew exactly how to take a stolen card and quickly turn it into lots of cash using gift cards.
"The cards can be sold online. They don't even have to physically ship the cards. They can just sell the number," Sgt. Warren explained.
Warren said this is a growing problem -- and not just here in Nashville.
According to the credit card industry newsletter, The Nilson Report, credit card fraud worldwide increased by 19% last year.
In the U.S. alone, losses due to credit card fraud were a staggering $7 billion.
The thieves in this case finally ran out of luck at the Target on Old Hickory Boulevard in Brentwood.
By the time they got there and tried to run the card, Puryear had already contacted American Express and the credit card company had shut down the account.
Puryear wondered why they weren't stopped sooner, but Target employees said they don't ask for identification, even on large credit card purchases.
However, American Express told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that there is something its cardholders can do.
Customers who sign up for instant fraud alerts are notified anytime there's a large or suspicious purchase, an international charge or a cash advance -- and a quick call to the company can stop the transaction.
"I would just love to be aware of an aggressive effort to stop this," Puryear shared.
Metro Police have asked anyone that recognizes either the man or woman in the surveillance shots, to call Metro's Crimestoppers program at 615-742-7463.
Metro Police also recommend that you keep your credit card's customer service number and the last four digits of your card handy and away from your wallet.
That way, if your card or wallet is ever stolen, it's easier and faster to report.