On the way to do some laundry, Stephanie Barbosa realized that she needed some cash, so she popped into a local convenience store and withdrew some funds from a white-label ATM. When she tried to use her card again a couple days later, it wouldn’t work. A call to her bank answered why: She was a victim of debit card fraud. Scammers had stolen her card info, created a duplicate, and proceeded to withdraw $1,000 from her account. “It was a little unnerving,” says the mother of a young son. “You just assume it won’t happen to you.”
Unfortunately, it will happen to a lot of us. According to the Canadian Bankers Association, 93,800 debit cards were compromised in 2012, resulting in the theft of $38.5 million from accounts.
Unknown Activity: An Unpleasant Surprise
As was the case with Barbosa, most victims don’t even know their card has been compromised until they try to use it and find it has been frozen. Toronto resident Lauren Foster got an unexpected call from her bank one morning.
“They noticed some funny activity and wanted to know where I was. Someone charged $1 to my card and then refunded it a couple minutes after. The bank said that was a sign of a copied card. By morning, there was a mini shopping-spree going on and about $700 had been spent,” she says.
In both Barbosa and Foster’s cases, their banks recognized that they had been victimized by crooks and their money was quickly reimbursed. But the federal Office of Consumer Affairs does warn that if you’re not careful with your banking information you might be held liable, and not get all your money back.
Some examples of behaviors that could leave you out of pocket include:
- Writing your Personal Identification Number (PIN) on your card or on a note in your wallet
- Choosing a PIN based on your phone number, birth date, or address
- Sharing your PIN with someone else
An Ounce of Prevention
Along with keeping your PIN secure, there are a number of ways you can help protect yourself from fraud. One common scam involves placing tiny cameras overlooking the ATM’s keypad. That’s why you should always use one hand to shield the numbers you’re entering.
Banks and the two credit reporting agencies (Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada) have fraud-alert programs enabling customers to sign up for email notifications of any unusual activity on your accounts.
After her experience, Stephanie Barbosa now makes a habit of keeping a minimal amount of money in her checking account, with the rest in a savings account that can’t be accessed via her debit card.
Beware Manipulative Mail
And, of course, never reply to a suspicious email claiming to be from your bank, the Canada Revenue Agency, or some other organization requesting that you update your password or asking for other personal information.
Finally, you should also review your monthly bank statement(s) to make sure all the transactions are legitimate. If you do spot anything unusual, contact your bank immediately.