I remember the first time my debit card was stolen. I was 19 and working at the local grocery store. My card got declined at the gas station. I didn’t know what was going on and who to talk to, and stopped using my debit card because I was afraid I had run out of money. Anyone else out there who was not taught how to balance their checkbook??
After a few weeks I got a scary – looking letter instructing me to call my bank.
“Ma’am,” they said, “Did you spend $35 at Hot Topic? How about $110 at Hot Topic 20 minutes later?”
Then the coup de grace, which still makes me laugh today:
“Did you spend $3,475 at MegaMuscles.com?”
I wasn’t out of money. My card had been compromised.
Today, I have three free and easy ways I keep my account safe.
Number one, I use a password protection software and a random password generator. So all of my passwords are strings of random characters 12 to 18 digits long, and I never typed them out, but copy and paste from the app or desktop program.
Number two, I do not ever use an ATM. ATMs are notoriously easy to compromise by thieves who install skimmer hardware, and steal your number and pin as you enter and type them. I don’t use cash often, but with my credit union membership I can go to any credit union in the United States and take a withdrawal from my account with no fee.
Third, I don’t have a debit card. Credit cards tend to have better consumer protection against fraud, theft, and even just a dissatisfying purchase. And if your credit card is stolen, thieves are that many more steps away from getting their paws on your actual money. Credit card fraud is 100% covered by the credit card company. You have much lower levels of protection from your own bank.
By avoiding ATM cards, debit cards, and keeping your online banking passwords secure and random, I don’t guarantee that you’ll never be the victim of identity theft. But let somebody else be the low-hanging fruit. Make your own money hard to steal.