By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – “The money that was lost in the victims we identified was about $100,000, this one particular case.”

An undercover detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s cyber crime investigative unit is talking about a woman they recently arrested for illegally depleting gift cards from unsuspecting victims.

READ MORE: No. 13 BYU Rallies From Blown Lead To Beat USC 35-31

He says this is a problem all year long, but they’re seeing it a lot more now because the pandemic has boosted online shopping – especially now during the holidays.

The detective tells us it starts with the hacker downloading particular software that’s free and easy to get. Then, the criminal configures or customizes it to do a specific task.

“There are legitimate websites that retailers use to verify the value of a card before its used,” he said. “This software allows that process to happen a lot faster. It goes through that website and identifies one at a time, at a very fast pace, which cards have values to it.”

READ MORE: Suspicious Vehicle Prompts Response From SWAT, Beverly Hills Police

Once a value is found on an account number, the hacker can then re-encode that value onto other cards. The detective says at that point, they can use it online or inside a store.

“Criminals can use any credit card with a magnetic strip and a simple magnetic encoder. They will take an old credit or debit card, as long as it has a strip on it, and encode the gift card information they stole onto that card,” he said.

The detective tells us the woman they arrested did just that and used the cards inside stores. Security video from those stores later helped identify her.

MORE NEWS: UCLA Runs Past Cal 42-14 To Wrap Up Eight-Win Regular Season

So how can you protect yourself from something like this happening to you? The detective says it’s simple. If you get a gift card, use it immediately. He tells us the longer you wait, the more chances a cyber criminal has to get your information.