While on a job in Orange, South Carolina, a couple of years ago our team had gone out for dinner and when I tried to pay for my meal with my bank debit card, was told the card had been declined. Knowing I had over three hundred dollars in the bank I assumed the restaurant machine was not working properly. After returning to the hotel I went on-line with my laptop to check my bank account and was surprised to find I had a zero balance.
Having your debit or credit card information copied and put on a blank card is a common tactic used by thieves, especially when you are going through the checkout line or removing money from an ATM machine that only has a narrow edge to slide your card along. There are so many varieties of high quality camera phones available and many of them will take a short video, as well. A crook can film your debit or credit card as it is being swiped, especially at an ATM machine, revealing the numbers on the front of the card and the PIN number as it is being entered on the machine’s keypad.
The information is then printed and stamped into the plastic of a fake card. My money was withdrawn at an ATM machine in Pennsylvania in two transactions since my bank only allowed withdrawals of up to two hundred dollars at one time from my bank account. I had never been to Pennsylvania and only had one debit card so I knew I had not lost one. And once the money has been withdrawn the odds of getting it back, or of the thief getting caught is almost impossible. Although some banks will return stolen funds, since banks are required to have FDIC insurance, many will not.
I later learned from one of the bank tellers at my bank, who had taken a class on identity theft, that there are several things that can be done to minimize the risk for the information on your debit or credit card to be copied and used to make a new card for thieves to use. Always have a store clerk run the transaction as ‘credit’, not debit, so that you will not have to key your pin number onto the machine keypad where anyone can see it, or hide the keypad by cupping one hand over the key pad numbers while entering your PIN.
If the clerk does not ask to see your driver’s license or other form of picture identification, report this to the store manager and remind them of the importance of protecting the consumer from having their debit or credit card used by a stranger. Although tens of thousands of dollars are stolen from bank accounts every year, at a great cost to both consumers and businesses, it is surprising how often store clerks still do not ask for, or check, the identification of shoppers.
Try to avoid ATM machines with only a narrow strip available to read the magnetic strip on a debit or credit card. Instead, opt for machines where the card has to be slid entirely into the machine. Or better yet, avoid in store ATM machines altogether, and go to your bank and make a cash withdrawal instead. There are also ATM machines in glassed in kiosks outdoors that you can use. Make sure you are alone in the kiosk when withdrawing funds or remember to cup your hand over the keypad when entering your PIN number.
Avoid ATM machines in high traffic areas or in stores outside your community or neighborhood, especially in large urban areas where there is a constant flow of people in and out of convenience stores and other places of business. Always have your purchases rung up as ‘credit’, even with your debit card to avoid exposing your information. Make a note of the names of any store or restaurant where you use your debit or credit card, along with the name of the store clerk. Although it is less likely that a store clerk, waitress, or waiter will steal your information, it has been know to happen.
If you leave your debit or credit card behind on a checkout counter and later find out that the store or restaurant management has found it, look up your bank account on-line or call your bank to make sure no purchases have been made with your card since you last used it. And always contact your bank if you cannot find your card to have it canceled and a replacement sent out. A little inconvenience of waiting a week to ten days for the replacement card is worth the damage that could be done to your bank account, your reputation, credit card account, or identity.