A few weeks ago, I received an email and text message alert from our credit union, notifying me that someone had stolen my debit card information. They had attempted to run three charges against it, exceeding the available balance in the process. My initial reaction was to get a little upset. How could my card information have been stolen? I am so careful.
In my mind, I quickly ran through a laundry list of reasons why this shouldn’t have happened.
- Checking my wallet; yep, I still have the card.
- I haven’t left it anywhere; so, it hasn’t been out of my possession.
- I haven’t used it to buy anything online.
- I haven’t used it at any sit-down restaurants.
- I safeguard the pin number, refusing to make debit purchases with the card.*
Besides, trying to steal from that account was pointless. I don’t even keep that much money in… Oh, wait. Yeah. I don’t keep that much money in that account.
I suddenly had a flashback to when I had set it up, and apprehension became relief. I was thankful that I had taken the time — on a day that I was "too busy" — to swing by our Credit Union. This was my discretionary spending account. I always make an effort to be responsible with where and how it is used; but, admittedly, I do make a lot of little purchases — at a lot of retailers, which presents a risk. But, this is the reason why the account had gotten overdrawn so easily. There wasn’t much of a balance to take, and there never is. We move money over as it is needed, from our main checking account.
Why do you need to set up a discretionary account?
Sure, we are all "too busy". But, setting up another account is relatively quick and easy to do; and, when something goes wrong — like it did for me — it doesn’t become a huge hassle to clear up. I lost no money. There were no recurring charges tied to this card, so no calls needed to be made. And, I was in and out of my local branch in fifteen minutes, with a new debit card that they had printed off, in hand.
As careful as you think you are being, it may not matter. I am always on the lookout to avoid anything that appears suspicious, and I have been hit twice in the past year.
Criminals have become very adept at developing credit card "skimmers", ones that can be added and removed from a card reader in a flash. They have also learned to streamline the appearance of these devices, fashioning them to blend in and slip by unsuspecting patrons at legitimate merchants. Because they are located outside, gas pumps have become a target of choice. Gas stations allow for a very rapid exit if the perpetrators happen to be spotted. All they have to do is drive off, and… go find another location where they can set up.
Taking into consideration that the charges, which overdrew my account, were all attempted at gas stations; our credit union determined that this is likely how my card had been compromised. Gas stations are also often targeted by the fraud that results from card theft. A criminal is going to "work" where they feel most comfortable.
Avoid becoming part of the problem.
Have you ever been approached by someone at a gas station asking if you would like… "a deal on your gas"? They will offer to fill up your vehicle, which would normally cost you $40, and all you have to do is give them $20 — cash (of course). You should recognize this as an obvious scam, and then remember that the card being used to buy the gas was likely stolen or cloned, from someone just like you or me. No matter how enticing the offer seems… PASS. Even if you are "sure" that you will get away with it… PASS. Any time a deal seems too good to be true, there is a reason for it; and, it is rarely a good one.
Contrary to what others might think, this isn’t a victimless crime. That "guaranteed" money sitting in banks must be replaced from somewhere, and that cost eventually makes it back down to everyone in the form of higher fees. With so many ordinary people taking advantage of these types of "offers", the criminal activity behind it can only grow.
Don’t become a party to credit card fraud. It is wrong, and if that isn’t enough for you, think of it in terms of risk. If it can be assumed that you knew the deal wasn’t legal, you can get in a lot of trouble. It isn’t worth it. Remember, gas stations have cameras. No one said that all of the criminals involved in this scam have to be smart. Don’t become one of them.