December 6, 2012 10:25:03 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
With only 19 shopping days left until Christmas, shoppers crowd the stores and browse the Internet in search of the perfect gift. For many, that means paying for the item by a swipe of the debit card and that could make unsuspecting shoppers vulnerable.
According to some local bankers, debit card theft has risen significantly this holiday season and they are warning their customers to be aware of credit card scams.
A type of credit card fraud that is increasing at an alarming rate is skimming.
While many consumers are aware that identity theft can occur from unsecured sites on the Internet, skimming is a growing trend that few are familiar with.
"Skimming, where a device is used to intercept credit or debit card information, is a fraud that continues to grow," said Cary Whaley of the Independent Community Banking Association.
Whaley said thieves can purchase a skimming kit and, within minutes of the swipe of a card, have access to your bank account.
"Card skimmers can be placed on ATMs, fuel pumps, or used as handheld devices by employees of restaurants or other businesses," he said.
When skimmers steal your debit card number, they can sell it on the black market. The thief who purchased the card number can then make a duplicate of the card. Instead of using it as a debit card, they will swipe it as a credit card to avoid having to use the pin number that is required on debit transactions.
It is nearly impossible to know when a skimmer has stolen your card number until it is too late.
For Lacey Stokes, debit card theft was an unfortunate reality last week. Stokes, who lives and works in Columbus, said her card was used for a charge of $31 at a hotel in Vermont. Stokes' bank, BankFirst, recognized the fraud and froze her debit card.
While Stokes is grateful the bank stopped the thief's access to her account, she said freezing her account left her in a bind.
"It happened on Friday evening when I went to use my card, it said it was declined. I said, 'That's not possible.' I was really embarrassed," Stokes said. "My friends were standing there looking at me like an idiot."
In the instance of debit card fraud, banks are responsible for 100 percent of the fraudulent purchases. In Stokes' case, BankFirst issued her a new debit card and covered the fraudulent charges.
BankFirst President Moak Griffin said the bank is encouraging customers to be extra cautious with their banking information.
"During this holiday season, debit card fraud has increased nationally," Griffin said. "No BankFirst customer information has been breached and all liability for fraud on debit cards is assumed by banks, not by customers or merchants.
"We recommend that customers never give anyone their personal pin number or any personal information and that they report unusual activity as soon as possible to their financial institution."
Zach Thomas with Regions Bank also gave a few words to the wise to the bank customers.
In addition to skimmers and unsecured Internet sites, Thomas warned that customers need to be wary of email phishing schemes as well.
Phishing is a type of fraud where an online account holder is duped by a perpetrator posing as a legitimate company used by the account holder.
"Banks will never send an email request asking for customers to verify or update personal information or passwords by replying to the email or by going to a website through a link included within the email," he said. "Even if you don't provide information, by clicking on the link you could expose your operating system to a virus or to software that enables criminals to eavesdrop on your keystrokes and capture your passwords and other confidential information."
Thomas said if a customer ever feels his or her financial information has been compromised, they should notify their bank immediately.
He also added that if your debit card is stolen, you should also notify the three leading credit agencies so your credit is not negatively affected.
"Ask each agency to place a fraud alert on your credit report and to send you a copy of your credit file," Thomas advised.
Bankers urge customers who believe they have been victimized by credit or debit card fraud to contact each of the three credit reporting agencies.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta GA 30347-0241
P.O. Box 9530
Allen TX 75013
Fraud Victim Assistance Division
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton CA 92634-6790
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.