Friday, May 9, 2008

Debit Card Fraud Hits Home

The identity thieves must be out in full force. Last week I helped one relative change their checking account at their bank because some thief had accessed the account on a monthly basis for quite some time. This week OUR checking account had an unauthorized electronic withdrawal.

Our bank was extremely helpful, walking us through the process of setting up a new account (with new account number) and helping us change all of our authorized bill-payments to utilities, insurance companies, mortgage, etc., to our new account. They will continue to monitor our account until all is well again.

The bank told us that Our Problem began when we used a debit card at a local restaurant. Someone associated with the restaurant stole debit card numbers of the customers and sold them to a Scoundrel who began drawing money from people's checking accounts. You can read about this local scam here.

Surprisingly, someone can easily steal your money. But more surprisingly, the bank cannot tell you WHICH restaurant was associated with the theft, nor WHO the person was who actually got your money. This has to do with our "privacy laws". Now how intelligent is that? Someone steals money from me and I am not allowed to know who it is?

The electronic withdrawal that was listed on our statement did have a (flaky) name and a phone number. The phone is answered with an answering machine which suggests we visit their website. The website, of course, turns out to be fake. No contact info there. Nothing. Nada.

My advice to everyone! Check your bank statements (and your credit card statements) on a monthly basis. If you don't recognize an item, find the toll-free number on the statement and double-check with the bank or your credit card company.

Credit card companies generally (perhaps not always, depending on the card company) are liable for unauthorized use.

The bank, however, is an entirely different matter. They may refund you any loss that you report within sixty days. But they may not always be as helpful as our bank was in remedying the situation so that the Crook can't dig into our bank account again and again and again. (Ours was accessed twice by this Crook!)

And if you don't bother to review your bank statements on a regular basis, and suddenly find that some Crook has been digging into your account for two years, just consider the money a total loss. But don't give up without first writing a letter to the fraud department at your bank and reporting your loss to your State Attorney General's office.

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