Scammers have no morals when it comes to stealing money and identifying information from their victims, and a recent case in California proves that once again. While so many scammers go after the elderly or lower income individuals, or even those who’ve been affected by a devastating event like the recent floods in Louisiana, these criminals targeted members of our active duty military who were stationed at a nearby base.

According to court filings, an employee, the manager, and the owner of Romano’s Jewelers, a San Diego-area store, were stealing from Marines who made purchases there. Using the service members’ identifying information and their account PINS, the scammers would add additional charges to their accounts in the form of new purchases.

It might not seem that simple to just add new charges to their accounts, but there’s a catch that made this possible. Earlier in 2013, thestore was investigated by a local news station after reports that customers left the store without being given proper paperwork that discloses the full details of their store credit accounts. One Marine’s purchase resulted in over $2,300 in charges, largely because his documentation didn’t list the price or the interest rate he would be paying on that purchase.

There were eventually so many complaints of similar circumstances that the local naval base issued a warning to all of its administrators, instructing them to caution their service members about this particular store.

Without proper documentation in hand, it can be easy to miss “extra” charges that get tacked onto the account. That, coupled with the convenience of automatic payments—something that active duty military often sign up for due to the possibility of being deployed at a moment’s notice—means soldiers were being charged additional expenses and didn’t know it.

In order to avoid becoming a victim of this kind of scam, it’s important to know ahead of time what conditions apply to your credit account. Look over the service agreement carefully, and demand an explanation of how many payments you’ll make, how much interest you’ll pay, what the percentage rate will be, and what changes will occur if you pay it off before the determined number of payments. Hopefully those questions alone will be enough to deter a scammer on the grounds that you’re too savvy to overlook any unauthorized charges, but on the off-chance you’re still their intended target, monitor your statements routinely for anything out of the ordinary.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.