While the holidays are almost over, many people are still shopping, hitting the after Christmas sales, using their Christmas money, etc., so while I didn’t get a chance to post this before the holidays I still feel that it is pertinent.
When most people think of the holidays, they think of decorations, presents, the same music playing everywhere, and cold weather. Something that many people don’t consider is fraud and identity theft, but, sad as it is, it is so prevalent this time of year. I don’t know (I haven’t looked into the statistics) if it is because it is easier for fraudsters to blend in during this time of year because more people are out shopping, or if it’s because it’s more difficult for people to catch fraudulent transactions on their accounts during the holidays because of the increased amount of spending, or if people just get desperate and decide to take what isn’t theirs. But the reason doesn’t matter, what matters is that it happens.
There are several ways that fraud can be committed against you. Some of the most common ways are: via your debit card, your credit card, by stealing checks that you have written and washing them in order to put new and fraudulent info on them, or by stealing your new box of checks from your mail box. Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are there is still a criminal out there who has figured out a way around your safeguards.
Let’s go into a little more detail on how some of these types of fraud are committed.
Credit and debit card fraud seems to be the most common form, or at least it’s the type that I see most often working in the branch. One of the ways that people can steal your card info is by using a cloner. A cloner is a device that a fraudster puts over the top of an existing card reader so that when you swipe your card it copies all of the information gathered during the transaction. These are most common on unmonitored outdoor ATMs, pay-at-the-pump machines at gas stations, and self-checkout at grocery stores. The crooks will then come back later to gather the information that the cloner has copied, and then they can either create a new card with your card info but with their name on it, or they can go and use the info they have gathered to make online purchases. Obviously the easiest way to avoid these crooks is not to use these methods.
Another way they can get your card info is by simply watching you and making note of your information. For instance, if you leave your credit card on the table face up at a restaurant, someone with a photographic memory could walk by and remember your card number only to use it later to make purchases online. In addition to this, there are actually people who will watch you make your ATM transactions and look over your shoulder to catch a glimpse of your PIN. Then, if you walk away and forget your card, they can grab it as soon as you’re gone and they also have your PIN. The best way to avoid these crooks is to be aware of your surroundings when using your cards. Keep your card number covered when lying it on the table, and make sure no one is standing too closely when you use your card in order to obtain your personal info.
Yet another, and very unfortunate way for people to steal your card info is store and restaurant employees. We like to think that the people helping us are trustworthy but the truth is that they are human and subject to temptation, and unlike people in the financial industry are not necessarily subject to background and credit checks prior to employment. The store or restaurant employee may not be the ringleader of the criminal operation, but they are often offered money in exchange for the info. So they take your card (at a restaurant they actually walk away with it to run it), swipe it, and can either write down the info or they can obtain the info from all of the cards they ran at the end of the day when they run their batch. Unfortunately the only way to avoid these types of fraudsters is to simply not use your cards at all, because you never know who is trustworthy and who is not.
A fourth way for this criminal element to scam you is called phishing. This is where people send out emails and/or text messages, or simply call, and pretend to be someone else to try to trick you into giving them your card or account info. The best way to avoid these types are to be very careful about who you give your info to. If you receive an email, text or phone call from someone and they are asking you for personal information PLEASE verify that they are who they say they are. Also keep in mind that your financial institutions and credit card companies will never ask you for this information via these means of communication. If there is any question about whether or not the person/website on the other end is who they say they are the best idea is to err on the side of caution and don’t give out any info until you are able to verify that they are who they say they are.
When it comes to check theft and washing, it is pretty straight forward: these people most often break into mail boxes, steal the mail inside, and sift through it for checks that have been written. These people will then take the check that you wrote and either A) use a chemical mixture to wash off your writing so that they can write in their own name and whatever amount that they want or B) they alter the already written info on the check to make it look like something else. The best way to avoid this is to use a secure mailbox to send out checks for bills or any other reason. Drop them off in one of the blue USPS drop boxes on the street corner, or go straight to the post office and drop it off. It may seem like a hassle, but it is well worth it to avoid the frustration and hardship that check fraud can cause you.
Now bear in mind, these are only some of the ways that people can get the better of you, this time of year or any other. There are others, but these are the ones that I have seen most frequently. After reading all of this you may be wondering what the point even is to use anything but cash these days, with fraud so prevalent. Well, first of all, if someone snatches your wallet or purse and you are carrying around cash, your cash is gone and you have absolutely no recourse. The second reason is that most financial institutions and credit card companies will not only help you to change your information to prevent the same thing from happening again, but they will (most often, certain circumstances excluded) hold you not-responsible for the fraudulent charges and credit the money back to you! The only catch is that you have to report the fraudulent activity within a certain amount of time. With Verity it is 60 days, but other institutions may give more or less time.
Basically what I am trying to say with all of this is please monitor your accounts carefully at all times, but especially during busy shopping times such as the Holiday Season. We don’t want you to have fraud on your accounts any more than you do!
I hope you all had wonderful holidays, and have a Happy New Year!
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