Sunday, March 1, 2009

Debit fraud on the rise, but you can stay safe - - 27 Feb 09

Blake Goddard said he had just turned his back for a moment to make a smoothie at his West Vancouver, B.C. Booster Juice outlet when his debit machine was stolen.

Goddard called police and the thief was captured.

The thief was given a $200 fine and one year's sentence where he's not allowed to re-enter British Columbia.

The reason for the light sentence is because the actual machine isn't worth much.

Police charged him with theft under $5,000 but the theft is geared to much more than that amount.

That's because stolen debit machines are altered to capture card numbers and PIN codes and then reinstalled in stores, where they can skim hundreds or thousands of cards and PIN codes.

Victims of debit card skimming know that all too well.

"Honestly, I was livid," says fraud victim Katy Henthorne. "I was furious and I was angry, and a little scared that somebody had managed to get into my account so easily."

Thieves were able to copy Henthorne's debit-card information, the PIN code and the account number. She is grateful her bank spotted the theft almost immediately.

"They saved me potentially thousands of dollars," she says.

But the problem is skimming is all too simple. All the equipment thieves need to copy your debit-card information is available online.

"Criminals secretly install a device called a skimmer on your ATM machine," says Tobie Stanger of Consumer Reports.

You're most vulnerable at places like gas stations, convenience stores, and airports where it's easier to install skimmers. But even at your bank's ATM, check to make sure nothing looks loose or out of place.

One of your best defenses is using a credit card, which makes the credit card company responsible for the theft.

Blake has taken other steps at his store to prevent theft from happening again, including securing the debit machine to the counter so it can't be taken or swapped with a skimming machine.

It's also something you can look for as a consumer to decrease your risk. If the debit machine is secured, you can feel more safe using it.

Another important way for you to protect against debit-card theft is to check your account frequently online. That way you can spot any suspicious activity right away and report it.

No comments: