Beware the debit card crooks.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary THE COLOR OF MONEY michelle.sin­gle­tary@wash­

Our fi­nan­cial lives have be­come a se­ries of debit card swipes.

We swipe for gro­ceries. We swipe for gas.

We tap our toes with im­pa­tience if we find our­selves be­hind some­one us­ing some­thing so seem­ingly out­dated as cash or a check.

Why bother with pa­per when ac­cess to all your money for just about any pur­chase is ac­ces­si­ble within sec­onds on a small plas­tic card?

But the card you rely on to con­duct your busi­ness has a vul­ner­a­bil­ity that thieves have be­come masters at ex­ploit­ing.

Dur­ing a fi­nan­cial work­shop I con­ducted at my church, sev­eral peo­ple talked about their re­cent ex­pe­ri­ences of hav­ing money stolen from their ac­counts be­cause of a debit card breach. One per­son lost $700. We all gasped when one woman said $3,500 was drained from her ac­count, in­clud­ing her rent money. Even­tu­ally the banks, as of­ten is the case, re­turned the stolen funds. But can you af­ford that kind of hit, even if it’s tem­po­rary?

Over the last sev­eral years, the per­cent­age of debit cards that have been com­pro­mised has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally, ac­cord­ing to FICO, the com­pany that cre­ated the credit-scor­ing model most used by banks to de­ter­mine bor­row­ers’ cred­it­wor­thi­ness.

There was a 26 per­cent jump from 2015 to 2016 in the num­ber of lo­ca­tions or busi­nesses where debit cards were com­pro­mised, FICO’s Card Alert Ser­vice re­ported. And those breaches meant that hun­dreds of thou­sands of con­sumers needed new cards.

It has be­come rel­a­tively easy for crim­i­nals to steal debit card data. Crooks place cam­eras and/ or skim­ming de­vices over the key­pads at ATMs or at gas pumps to cap­ture card num­bers Debit card theft The num­ber of stolen debit cards -- and new cards is­sued -has steadily in­creased in the past five years. and PINS and then load the in­for­ma­tion onto a plas­tic card they can use to tap into your bank ac­count.

Con­tribut­ing to the rise in debit card com­pro­mises is the im­prove­ment of skim­ming tech­nol­ogy, said Michael Betron, se­nior direc­tor of prod­uct man­age­ment for FICO.

“For un­der $100, some­one can buy a skim­mer from an on­line mar­ket­place,” he said. And they are mak­ing them smaller and more dis­crete.

The ease of the skim­ming breeds more theft.

“Peo­ple be­come suc­cess­ful, and then they be­come more or­ga­nized,” Betron said.

Un­der the fed­eral Elec­tronic Fund Trans­fer Act, if you re­port that your card is miss­ing or stolen be­fore some­one uses it, you are not re­spon­si­ble for unau­tho­rized trans­ac­tions.

But if some­one uses your debit card be­fore you get a chance to re­port the fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity, your li­a­bil­ity de­pends on how fast you spot the hack. Within two busi­ness days the most you could be held li­able for is $50. Wait longer to no­tify your bank and you could be on the hook for up to $500. If you re­port the loss 60 days af­ter re­ceiv­ing your bank state­ment, you may not get back the money you lost.

And even if you do re­port the loss right away, it can take a while for the bank to in­ves­ti­gate and re­place your funds.

Here are some tips from FICO to re­duce the chance your card will be com­pro­mised.

Pay at­ten­tion to the ATM you’re us­ing. If some­thing looks funky or your card doesn’t eas­ily go into the ma­chine, walk away.

I probe around any ATM I use to see if any­thing can be lifted up or pulled out. Still, no mat­ter how care­ful you are, you may not de­tect any­thing wrong.

“The skim­mers are cam­ou­flaged, so un­less some­one knows what to look for, it’s hard to tell it’s there,” Betron said.

I won’t use any ATMs that don’t be­long to my fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion. I limit the use of my debit card to just a few places. I don’t use it to get gas, since the pump­ing ma­chines have been par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble.

Be leery of stand-alone ma­chines and ATMs lo­cated in con­ve­nience stores, es­pe­cially if they are placed in a spot out of the view of store clerks. FICO said that most com­pro­mises oc­cur at non-bank ATMS.

If you use an ATM and your card isn’t re­turned im­me­di­ately, con­tact your fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion right away. It might be that the crooks staged the cap­ture of your card.

Be mind­ful of the peo­ple stand­ing around you. If some­one is po­si­tioned just a lit­tle too close, don’t com­plete your trans­ac­tion. (I give the per­son a look that says, “You bet­ter back up.”)

Reg­u­larly check your bank ac­count. I have set up on­line alerts for all my ac­counts — credit and debit. I get an email when­ever a pur­chase or with­drawal is made.

Be sure that all your con­tact in­for­ma­tion — ad­dress, email and mo­bile num­ber — is up­dated on all your ac­counts. You don’t want a pos­si­ble fraud alert from your bank to bounce back.

I’m not telling you all this to put you in a panic. But just be care­ful out there.

Source: FICO Card Alert Ser­vice THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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