Don’t Let Thieves Drain Your Checking Account

Thieves are stealing money from bank accounts all over the country by attaching phony card readers to ATMs, gas pumps, and other places where customers swipe their debit and credit cards.
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In the last several years, Americans have gotten so comfortable with checking account debit cards that they’re using them more often than they use their credit cards to make purchases.

Unfortunately, that fact hasn’t been lost on organized crime. Local gangs and worldwide organized criminal networks are making a killing by stealing debit card information and draining bank accounts in “skimming” scams. How? Debit and credit card readers are relatively cheap and available for sale on the Internet. Thieves buy them and attach them to ATM machines, movie rental kiosks, gas pumps, and other places where customers swipe their credit or debit cards to get money or make a purchases. They also install secondary key pads to capture PINs or tiny cameras to record customers entering their numbers.

Phony Check Card Readers

Sometimes the fake card reader is attached to the outside of the machine, but in some cases thieves are able to attach the card reader inside a piece of equipment, so there’s no way for a consumer to tell that the machine has been rigged. Gas pumps are a common target. Crooks break into the pump and install a card reader and a keypad–all in less than a minute. They come back later to retrieve the equipment containing stolen card information from hundreds of customers or in some cases get the data through a wireless transmission.

Tips To Protect Your Savings and Checking Accounts

Defense is the best offense against skimming. To minimize the chances you’ll be the target of a skimming scam:

  • Go inside to pay for gas, and use ATMs in locations where they’re least likely to be tampered with, such as in bank lobbies.
  • Use the same ATMs regularly so you can spot any unusual changes to the machine, and don’t use a machine if it looks as if something has been attached to it.
  • Consumer Reports and AARP advise to use your credit card at the gas pump or choose “credit” when using your debit card so you don’t have to type in your PIN.
  • Check your checking account balance frequently and report any fraudulent activity to your bank immediately. If you’re still getting your checking statements by snail mail, sign up for online banking so you can review your account anytime you wish from your home computer.
  • Sign up for free transaction alerts of irregular checking and savings account activity. These alerts are delivered from your bank to your e-mail account or as a text message to your cell phone anytime there’s unusual check card activity or other changes to your account, such an address change. You can specify what types of activity will trigger an alert when you sign up with your bank.

Although skimming incidents are popping up all over the country, you don’t have to be a victim. By monitoring your account and taking care where you swipe your card, you can keep your financial information and money safe.

About Author
Barbara Marquand has written about personal finance for more than a decade. Prior to that, she wrote for national consumer and trade publications on a wide range of topics, including business, careers, and parenting. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, MSN Money, USA Today, The Washington Post, and many others.