Usually I write about gardening – and that’s on back in today’s Spectrum section.
Sometimes, too, I write about funny stuff – that’s not here today because this column is about a dead serious topic and something that potentially could impact you just as it did my wife and me.
Here’s the meat of the matter: We have closed our debit card accounts and cut up the cards after discovering fraudulent activity a couple of weeks ago.
Like you, I would imagine, we’d heard and read about identity theft and how important it is to protect your “numbers” that access your accounts, whether that be checking, credit or debit, Social Security, whatever. We had “heard” but, I suppose, had always thought, “That can’t happen to us.”
It did and it can happen to you, the likelihood rising in a struggling economy and as the unscrupulous become increasingly computer savvy.
Here’s the timeline:
During the week of Feb. 6 I kept monitoring the balance in our checking account until Friday the 10th I called about 3 p.m. and the computerized voice said, “Your current balance is seventy dollars and thirty-two cents.” I nearly fell from my chair here at Your Hometown Newspaper, grabbed my coat and headed downtown to Farmers, my bank.
The teller printed out the activity sheet for the month and I didn’t see anything too strange – and nothing about the current balance. I asked if there was another sheet, the one that records “pending transactions” that will be “transacted” at the close of business.
And there it was in brackets, meaning the amounts were set to come out. Four charges totaling more than $2,300!
I went back to the teller line and was directed to Jamie White, head teller.
After numerous calls she was told the charges came through my wife’s debit card and all the numbers on the card were used, not including her PIN number.
Let me pause here and say everyone I dealt with at Farmers was sincerely concerned and most helpful. Having never encountered a situation like this I suppose it would have been easy to say, “tough luck, you should have paid more attention,” but they didn’t do that.
It was as if the money missing was their own. I would hope all banks and financial institutions are like that, and I trust they are. I know mine is.
What followed was a long time at the bank while White filled out what seemed to be a sheaf of paperwork that my wife Susan had to complete since it was her card that was compromised. We were told we needed to call each of the three businesses involved (there were two charges to one totaling nearly $900!), determine their fraud policies, fill out all the forms, return them to the bank – and contact the Frankfort Police Department to make a report.
I’ve discovered as this has unfolded that a lot of people – many of them who have real money! – don’t use debit cards at all, don’t even possess them.
I shared the plight with my brother, who owns his own very successful business in Pittsburgh. He doesn’t have a debit card.
“We use a credit card and just pay if off each month,” he said. “Or cash.” And this is for things like eating out. Checks still work, too.
Others too numerous to mention have offered the same advice: Close out the debit card. Susan’s was closed immediately, mine followed the next week.
To say the least, it was a very tense weekend as we didn’t use the checking account, not knowing what else might have been accessed or compromised and what else was waiting out there to fall into the account with our $70 balance!
All we had was the cash in our pockets since we’ve used those debit cards like cash for years. I was mentioning to a friend that Sunday I only had $13 to make it the rest of the day. He pulled out his wallet and handed me $20 bill. “It’s a loan,” he said.
We were assured that with “due diligence” all would be restored but the charges may drop back into the account for a time before it was all settled.
Which was, of course, “unsettling” since that tends to keep one’s account balance a little fluid – at least it does ours!
Then two more unauthorized charges showed up last weekend.
Unsettling time again!
I reported to the bank last Tuesday (remember Monday was a holiday) to see what was happening since I was confident the cards had been closed down. It’s complicated but they said it can happen. More forms, more challenges to the charges.
It was then I heard this is a problem all financial institutions deal with continually – unfortunately. Danielle Dunmeir, who works in another department of the bank that must deal with these challenges regularly, came to the lobby to – as much as anything else – reassure me all would be okay.
She told me usually she deals with four of these cases or so on Monday after the weekend but when she came to work on this Tuesday she had 30!
I’m no financial adviser, don’t want or claim to be. All I can say is from our experience: Guard Your Numbers! We thought we were being careful, but obviously not careful enough.
I was glad to find the experts who understand – and offered help.