Protect yourself and your debit card from fraud

December 14, 2010

More and more, Canadians are pulling out their debit cards to make purchases. But even if you’re choosy about which ATMs you use, you can still become a victim of identity thieves who place seamless devices on machines to steal debit card information.

ATM skimming is a growing problem and the Better Business Bureau recommends consumers take a few steps to protect themselves from becoming the next victim, particularly during this busy holiday shopping season.

“Canadians love the convenience and ease of debit cards,” says Lynda Pasacreta, BBB President and CEO. “As a result, fraudsters see users as big targets. They use skimming devices that can be hard to detect and often blend in seamlessly with the ATM.”

According to Interac Association, a debit card services organization, over $142 million was lost to debit card fraud in 2009―an increase of more than $38 million over 2008.

Identity thieves tamper with ATMs in any number of different ways in order to steal debit card numbers and PINs. Skimming devices and cameras can be installed quickly over the keypad or a device over the card reader. ATMs aren’t the only hot spots, Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals in busy retail outlets and restaurants are also targets.

The following are a few ways to fight debit card fraud:

Protect your PIN
When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to prevent any cameras from catching your digits. False keypads placed over the real keypad are also a way scammers get PIN numbers so if the keypad looks different, move on and report it.

Give it a wiggle
Skimming devices are often false panels attached to the ATM—such as where you put your card into the machine. If parts of the ATM look damaged or different, give it a wiggle. Also look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage. Don’t hesitate to walk away and use another ATM if it doesn’t feel right.

Be picky with your ATMS
Avoid using ATMs in poorly lit or low traffic areas. Experts often recommend choosing a bank ATM over standalone ATMs in public places. Not only do identity thieves attach devices to legitimate ATMs to steal numbers, they will also place their own phony ATMS in public places.

Keep an eye on your statements
The most vigilant person can still fall victim to ATM skimmers, and it’s important to always keep a close eye on your accounts—particularly the itemized breakdown of charges and debits—so that you can quickly report any suspicious activity on your account. Many institutions offer text alert which allows for instant updates on account activity when account transactions occur.

Report Fraud Immediately
Report any fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Consumer protections for debit cards vary but depend largely on when you report the fraudulent activity. If you wait too long to report the fraud, your bank account could be cleaned out and your bank might not reimburse you.