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Danger This Holiday Season

Nancy Patterson December 7, 2011 Easy Street No Comments on Danger This Holiday Season

Protecting Yourself

Saturday I woke up to the buzzing of my phone. I had a text message. Who would text me at 6 am on a Saturday morning I thought. Doesn’t anyone else like to sleep in on the weekends?

I stretched my limbs in every direction and turned over hurriedly to stop the offending noise.  In my head I was already ridiculing the sender and crafting a not so nice reply about appropriate call times.

The brightness of the screen burned my eyes as I peered through half open eyes at the message.  The sender was from a number I didn’t recognize, not someone from my known contacts. I thought, “Well at least I don’t have to berate any of my friends for texting me this early in the morning.”

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While that tidbit relaxed me a little bit back to sleep, the content of the sender’s message shot me right out of bed. The message was from my bank, Bank of America.  They had temporarily frozen usage of my debit card due to unusual activity.

Now I was awake. I raced to my computer and logged online to check my accounts. Sure enough there were numerous charges to my debit card at a Target store across the state. Someone had charged hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise to my card.

I felt scared…confused…angry…violated…betrayed. So many thoughts were running through my mind. How did this happen? Could the thieves wipe my accounts out completely? Would I ever be able to get my money back? What should I do? Who do these people think they are taking my hard earned money!

My mind raced with these thoughts, jumping from one emotion to the next in the blink of an eye. I hurriedly dialed the number of my bank to put an end to the treachery.

Thankfully a nice young man answered my call and was able to calm me down from my rant. He placed a freeze on my debit card, checking account, and savings account (since I have the two linked). I calmed down a bit once I knew no more of my money could be taken from my account.

The next step was to find out how this happened. I explained that I was still in possession of my debit card so I knew it wasn’t stolen. How could someone else use my debit card to make purchases if I still had the card?

The customer service representative informed me of a scheme called skimming. Skimming is a method in which thieves steal your credit card information. They swipe your card in a reader and instantly have all of your credit card information. They can then put your account information on a dummy card and make purchases using your money. They don’t even need your pin.

Skimming occurs most frequently at retail outlets that process credit card payments — particularly bars, restaurants and gas stations. Thieves either place an unnoticeable device on a gas station pump to get your information or an untrustworthy employee at a restaurant or bar swipes your card in a skimmer before swiping your card for payment.

Since last Saturday I’ve been working with my bank to stop future thieves from stealing my money. I’ve changed my account numbers and pins, temporarily frozen my accounts and started the claim process to get my money back. It’s been time consuming and very frustrating.

The worst part is that I will never know where thieves got my information from. Was it a restaurant I frequent, a bar I had a few drinks at, a gas station I filled up at, or any other of the myriad of places I have used my debit card at in the last few months. The thought that I might go back to the same place that thieves stole my card information scares the heck out of me. I don’t want this to happen again. Nor do I want to give that retailer my business anymore.

The folks at Bank of America and bankrate.com gave me some tips to ensure that this sort of thing never happens again.

First off they advised me that I had caught this so quickly because my contact information was up to date with my bank. So many people are afraid of getting solicitation calls and mailings that they don’t give their bank their correct phone number or email address. The fact that Bank of America had my contact information allowed me to stop the thieves from stealing even more of my money.

It’s also good to sign up for banking alerts. These will inform you when particular changes occur, such as irregular card activity, which in my case alerted Bank of America to possible fraud usage.

They also advised me to let them know of my travel plans and dates whenever possible. If your card gets swiped at an unusual location, the card issuer may decline the suspicious transaction.

To prevent skimming at ATM’s stay away from machines that appear in need or a repair or have exposed wiring. Thieves set up skimmers inside the card reading mechanism of an ATM. If anything appears loose, damaged, or crooked on the ATM don’t slide your card in. Also be aware of prompts asking you to enter your pin in twice. This is a definite give away of credit card skimming.

At restaurants and retail outfits always keep your card in sight. Never let a waitress or sales representative walk away with your card. It is so easy for them to swipe your card through a skimmer and collect your financial data for themselves before processing your payment. In these instances it’s better to pay with a credit card or cash.

Why? Because debit cards do not have the same kind of fraud protection as credit cards. If a thief skims your credit card information and makes purchases with it, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company. You won’t be forced to pay for the unauthorized charges.

Debit cards don’t work quite the same way. Thieves can use them to pull money out of your checking account and savings account (if they are linked). While the bank investigates you won’t be able to access your money or pay bills resulting in bounced payments, late charges, and potentially overdrafts.

What I’ll take away from this is to use credit cards and cash much more than my debit card. It’s just not worth the risk. Plus with all the rewards and cash back credit cards are offering currently it makes much more sense to pay with my credit card every time I make a purchase.

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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson

P.S. This is a time of year where you may be pulling out your card a lot, be careful.  Also please be sure to comment on our blog to share your stories and suggestions.


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