You have heard about credit and debit card fraud.

What do you do if you’re a victim?

How did it even happen?

I’ve got the answer.

Disclaimer: This blog is Man Vs Cash. That means all things cash. Saving it, building it, paying it off, and protecting it. Today’s entry will focus on the latter part.

The photo above is Siri’s attempt at transcribing the voicemail that I got from my Credit Union’s fraud center a couple of weeks ago. Somewhere in West Virginia and South Carolina, a low-life enjoyed a hotel stay and a car wash on my dime. That’s nice of me.

Although rare, fraudulent transactions can happen to you. Here’s how it happens, why it happens, and what YOU can do to safeguard yourself from losing money.

How did they get your card info? The card is in your wallet!

The card may be in your wallet, but the card number was stolen from you. No need to retrace your steps, because it likely happened six months ago.

Just like those advertisements for “local singles dying to meet you”, card skimmers are cheap, they’re easy, and they’re everywhere. ATM’s. Gas pumps. Merchants. You name it, they can skim it.

How it works

Skimmers are essentially card readers, placed with ill-intent over valid ones, that capture the data from your card’s magnetic stripe. The most interesting part about skimmers is that it does not stop the actual, legitimate device from working properly. Every card that comes in contact with a skimmer has its info saved on a computer chip and stored for the thief to later remove from the device and use to make purchases, or even cloned debit cards.

No need to rob a bank when you can make a computer chip do the work for you, right?

The thief often sells the card information on a black market. Once a buyer has your info and is ready to use it, they will often make a small “test” purchase of only a few dollars to verify the validity of the card number. If the transaction clears, it’s time to go shopping.


Check For Tampering

Anytime I use a gas pump, or an ATM, I check for some obvious indications that trouble is near. I look for signs of tampering near the top of the device, around the screens, or at the card reader itself (unusual scuff marks, pry marks, etc…). I also look to see if any flashing lights look obscured.

If you have multiple devices around you (a row of ATM’s, for example) glance at the others and see if anything looks suspicious.

Standalone devices are built with strong and sturdy materials. If you wiggle your machine and something feels loose, moves, or jiggles, find another machine to do business with.

Check that keyboard, too. If the keyboard feels thick or otherwise unusual, this is another potential warning sign. A thief may have put on a false keyboard to snatch PIN’s (personal identification numbers).

Don’t give the thief your card info.

Not all card fraud is related to skimmers, though. Some people willingly and voluntarily give up their card number to a thief. Yes, willingly.creditunionscam

Recently, a local institution was one of dozens nationwide who found their name being used in a Card Alert Scam.

Account holders and non-account holders all across the nation received text messages stating that there was an issue with their account, and to contact the number provided.

The provided number was not any financial institution or fraud protection agency. Rather, it was somebody posing as a representative of dozens of banks/credit unions…ready to “verify” your card information by having you tell them the full card number and expiration date.

You might think that it’s obviously a scam that you’d never fall for, but in a time of panic, you may be surprised what you are willing to do in order to “protect” yourself—as it may seem. Especially if the person makes you believe that they work for your financial institution.

Millions of dollars are lost this way, nationwide, every single year.

No institution will ask you for highly sensitive information (social security number, full card numbers, etc…) over the phone. If you have any hesitations, hang up and visit a local location.

They took my money!

If you do find that a fraudulent transaction cleared your account, or you think that you may have compromised your information, don’t panic.

  • Call your institution and inform them as soon as possible.
  • Cancel your card.
  • Ask the institution how to do a “transaction dispute” so you can be reimbursed.
  • Aid your institution with any documents that they may request. Your help will expedite the refund.
  • Get a new card issued.
  • Be more careful in the future.

Like I said, fraud is rare. However, it does happen to the best of us, and your financial institution are experts at dealing with it. Go in person, trust their guidance, and ask any questions that you may have.

These are just two types of scams. There are hundreds of others. We’ll cover them later.

Moral of This Story: Always work to protect your own best interests.