“Stop, thief!”

By Erin Ayers on July 31, 2014

“Stop, thief! Help, my purse has been stolen!”

My financial lifeline, my debit card, has been snatched away by three different thieves, in Georgia, Texas and New Jersey and I never left the comfort of my home.

I didn’t do any shrieking – mostly just some indignant sputtering. Such is the way of payment card fraud.

My bank called me one evening this week to inform me that my debit card had materialized at a Walgreen’s in Georgia, trying to spend $0.71 (dream bigger, card thieves!); at a Piggly Wiggly in Texas for $75 (thank you for going to a Piggly Wiggly, card thieves! I’ve never been!); and a Macy’s in New Jersey, trying to score a $330 haul (ouch).

All while I lounged on my couch, the bank’s customer service representative assured me the card would be shut off and a new one issued in 5-7 business days. Now I’m stuck walking into a branch to do my banking, like some sort of frontiersperson. I also pounced upon the opportunity to pepper the bank’s fraud services rep with questions regarding their detection practices.

Luckily, my bank constantly monitors every customer’s account for wacky transactions. While I cringe a bit at Card Fraud Services potentially judging me for my gluten-free pizza takeout habit, I’m glad they’ve got my back.

While I hoped for a sneak peek into the seedy underbelly on card theft, the bank rep remarked that they’re unable to share any details about how card numbers have been heisted. There are many, many avenues to card-number theft for criminals – “skimmers” on ATM or gas pumps, malware, buying them online after data breaches – and I hoped to get the dirt on how my information might have gone astray. For journalistic purposes, not revenge, of course.

The entire experience impressed upon me the need for vigilance on the part of card users. Card issuers, banks, and businesses that maintain payment card data, despite the rash of data breaches, generally have systems in place for detecting fraudulent activity and can alert customers.

However, consumers have a role to play in keeping themselves safe online and with their credit/debit card purchases. Studies show victims of data breaches rarely accept the free credit monitoring services offered to them. If you’re not aware of the financial havoc that could be wrought and actively trying to prevent it, card thieves have an even easier time of their digital purse-snatching.

For my part, I feel a new obligation to be ever more careful about staying more aware of the risks attached to credit/debit cards being the predominant method of payment and monitoring my accounts for unusual transactions. Besides those pizza delivery orders, of course.


Erin is the managing editor of Advisen’s Front Page News. She has been covering property-casualty insurance since 2000. Previously, Erin served as editor-in-chief of The Standard, New England’s Insurance Weekly. Erin is based in Boston, Mass. Contact Erin at [email protected].