On one not-so-special Saturday night, my roommate got a call from her bank saying there were some strange-looking charges coming out of her checking account. Two charges had been made, one for over $100, from a grocery store in the Bronx (we live in downtown Manhattan). Luckily, her bank, Bank of America, caught the fraudulent charges early and even reimbursed her for the $100 one right away.
That's too bad, I thought. Thank goodness it didn't happen to me.
In case you didn't know, karma is one fickle bitch. After sleeping soundly until 11 a.m. on Sunday afternoon, I woke up to a missed call from an 866 number and a voicemail.
Someone got my checking account information too and racked up more than $150 in charges the day before. At a gas station. In Atlanta, Georgia.
Granted, they didn't drain my account, but $150 is a pretty big deal to me. A quick glance at my wallet showed that my debit card was still in my possession. I called the bank back right away. They supposedly cancelled the card. Then they said I had to wait until Tuesday when the charges went through (they were currently listed as "pending") and call the claims department, who'd credit my account.
Just in case, I headed to the bank to talk to someone in person so I could make sure I wasn't missing a step. The teller told me that it would be safer to open up an entirely new checking account. Everything I had set up through that account, my bill payments, direct deposit, even my Kindle and Netflix, had to be cancelled. My checks were worthless and I had to order new ones. Pain in the ass, but better to be safe than sorry, right?
Come Tuesday, I put a call into the claims people to get those charges back. After hassling him about where I was the last three times I used my card (I clearly couldn't have gone to Atlanta and back in a matter of three hours, it's fraud, dude!), I had to sign an electronic form and the charges were credited to my account in the next few hours.
I was definitely one of the lucky ones. The scary thing with debit card fraud is that thieves are accessing your money in your account, which isn't the case with a credit card. Turns out it's super-easy for a thief to take the numbers from your debit card and expiration date and use that information to make online purchases. When was the last time you needed your PIN number to make a purchase? Some ATM machines and skimmers at restaurants and other retail stores are even set up by thieves to strip your debit card and PIN numbers. A lot of information is stored in that magnetic strip.
Also, anytime you leave a copy of your debit card for a server at a restaurant, that person could quickly make a copy of your card and use the numbers and your name as often as they'd like. Someone also could have went through the trash and looked up old bank statements.
There's no easy way to prevent this from happening. But here are a few quick tips:
• Be hyper-vigilant about checking your account. This is most important. Most people don't check every day, but they should start. Waiting for too long means you're more liable for charges, and once your money's gone, it's gone. If it's a large amount of money and you waited too long to see it, you could have to wait for months for the bank to issue your money back and figure out what happened.
• Use cash at restaurants and shops. Sometimes technology works against us after all. The less information these places have about you, the better.
• Look at the fine print. Banks vary when it comes to how much you might be liable for if you become a victim of fraud. Make sure you know all the details beforehand.
• Shred your statements. Same goes for receipts. There's so much information that can be gathered by someone who goes through your trash. Most banks have account and credit card numbers printed right there on your statement for the thieves to see. If you can, go for paperless statements and get everything sent to you via email.
• Have an emergency account. If this thief had managed to drain my entire account, I'd be utterly and completely screwed. There'd be no way to pay the rent or bills and my credit would suffer. It's important to set up a separate account for emergencies such as this one.
Has this kind of fraud ever happened to you? What do you do to avoid it?
Image via bradipo/Flickr