Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Beware debit card skimming


I write with the hope that I might spare another hard working, innocent, law-abiding citizen the trauma that I am currently experiencing.
I tried to make a payment at an office recently and my debit card was declined due to insufficient funds. I proceeded to use a nearby ATM and realised that all of my money was gone — my salary and savings. My card was never out of my possession. I was told by the bank that it must have been skimmed. I am careful to the point of being neurotic but I was robbed silently and did not even know. The last place I used my card before this incident was at an ATM machine in Trincity Mall. I suddenly went from being financially secure to having no money for my mortgage, car payment, bills, groceries, medication...I was left with less than $20.
The bank has no system in place to assist customers in such cases, despite your years of doing business with them. In fact their investigation may take three months! In an attempt to minimise the risk of losing my money I don’t use a credit card or make online purchases. I am only now learning about debit card skimming and it is terrifyingly more prevalent here than we might think.
There is a wide range of information available online that would be worth reading. I am obviously merely a victim and I am no expert in the field but this is a summary of what I found out.
An ATM skimmer has two components. The first is a small device inserted over the card slot. When you insert your card the device creates a copy of your data on the magnetic strip. The second part of the device is a tiny camera. It is strategically pointed at the keypad and captures your pin. Skimming does not interfere with your transaction and you will not know that your information was stolen. They then use your data to programme a bogus ATM card, enter your PIN and withdraw your money. Additionally unscrupulous employees can also use a hand-held skimmer and get your information at a point of sale when you pay with your card.
Tips to avoid skimming:
1. Use the ATM machines located inside banks.
2. Cover your PIN with more than your hand to block out any hidden camera.
3. Check for tampering; look for tape/ glue, wiggle parts.
4. Have separate chequing and savings accounts.
5. Leave limited funds in the account that you have card access to.
6. Don’t put all of your money in one financial institution.
It is very unfortunate that banks have not issued well-publicised warnings and guidelines to their customers about this specific problem which the public is largely unaware of. This is a traumatising experience for any age group; but to unsuspecting senior citizens especially, confident that their money is safe in the bank, a situation like this would be particularly devastating. They ought to be warned about these new technology savvy criminals. It seems we may have to revert to using mattresses.
S Singh
Caroni