Protect your Plastic from Identity Theft

By: Glyn Norman

The Today show on May 8th gave an interesting expose of the latest techniques identity thieves are using to steal your identity and money. The technique is called ‘skimming’ and involves replacing the genuine card reader, with a card reader installed by the thieves. Recently in Rhode Island, two ‘Stop and Shop’ stores found that two of their point-of-sale machines had been broken into, replacement card readers installed, and 1000 cards compromised.

With skimming at the ATM, the ATM is rigged to steal the card info with an unauthorized card reader, while a hidden camera makes a note of the PIN number as you punch it in. The card information is then loaded onto a blank card, and the crooks can then go to the bank and withdraw money until your account is empty. Most bank customers do not have a daily transaction limit on their account, just a per-transaction limit, so the thieves can make a $200 withdrawal again and again, until there is no more money left in the account.

Admittedly, most banks will reimburse you for such theft, but it can take weeks, and in that time, you’ll have to make do without your money.

Almost $1 trillion is transacted through ATM machines in the USA every year, and experts estimate that $50 million of that is lost to skimming.

The TODAY show team, in partnership with Washington Mutual Bank, set up a unauthorized card reader (which they bought online) at the door of one of their Times Square branches. This was a door that previously required no card swipe to enter. These are the statistics: 16 people opened the door without swiping the card, but 18 people did swipe their card through the unauthorized reader. If these cards had the Visa or Mastercard logo on them, the crooks could immediately make online transactions, even without knowing a PIN code.

This is what you can do to protect yourself:

• request a “per-day" transaction limit on your ATM card, eg. $500. This is then the maximum amount that could be stolen in a day.

• check your accounts regularly, either online, in person, or over the phone

• when typing in your PIN, look out for any new or different equipment at the ATM and shield your hand carefully, so no hidden camera could see what you type

• subscribe to an Identity Theft Protection Program, such as the Identity Theft Shield, available at http://officialIDguard.com which offers continuous credit monitoring and identity theft repair if your identity is ever stolen.

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