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BLOG: College students and cash: preventing fraud

23 November 2012 No Comment


Sometimes it doesn’t always feel like I’m lucky. I’ve never won the lottery (well okay, I did win $5 on a scratch-off ticket once), or found a $20 bill on the sidewalk (just a few pennies). But when I think about bad things that could happen, such as a house fire, or having a serious injury or illness, I have to admit that I’ve been lucky enough to never experience something terrible. I also used to be able to say that I’ve never been the victim of bank account fraud…until this past weekend.

On Friday afternoon, I was out visiting families that I work with when I decided to stop at the Shippensburg McDonald’s for lunch. When I tried to pay for my food, my card was declined. As it turned out, my bank had placed a temporary block on my card due to suspicious activity. Apparently, someone had made two large purchases at a Staples store in New York state the previous night, charged to my bank account.

I went to my bank immediately on Friday to file a fraud report. While the situation was extremely upsetting, it was also confusing. I asked a bank manager how the fraudulent purchases were made, because I still had my debit card in my possession – it was never stolen or lost, and I was certain it had never been out of my possession long enough for someone to copy my card number.

The manager explained that many businesses have had their point-of-sale information compromised, which means that an unauthorized person hacked into the company’s computer system and stole the credit and/or debit card information of individuals who used their cards at that business. A few months ago, a local restaurant in Shippensburg had this happen. I had been to that restaurant, so its possible that a thief got my information there.

But still, how was my card able to be used in New York when I haven’t been to New York in over a year? Apparently thieves are getting smarter and more sophisticated. They’re now able to make new cards and print stolen numbers on them to use in stores. This must be how they were able to present a card with my number on it to a store hundreds of miles away from me.

So why am I telling you about my unlucky story? I want to make you aware that, unfortunately, this can happen to you. I didn’t think something like this could happen unless my card was stolen from me, so I’m super careful about not leaving my wallet unattended. I also try to be smart about where I shop online, and avoid suspicious looking websites in favor of reputable sites with strong customer protection policies. But as my experience showed me, even careful cardholders can become victims.

If you can’t completely shield yourself from fraud, what else can you do to help yourself avoid a situation like mine? Check your bank accounts frequently. Save all your receipts and match them up with your bank records to ensure that no unauthorized purchases have been made. Sign up for online banking or download your bank’s app, if they offer one, directly to your smartphone so you can check your account wherever you are.

If you notice any questionable purchases, immediately notify your bank and ask them to close your card. This will help to limit the fraudulent purchases. Read your card issuer’s fraud policy and be sure you understand it. If your card is used without your permission, will you be held liable for some of the unauthorized purchases? Some cards have “zero liability” policies, while others could leave you responsible for a portion of the charges, sometimes up to $500.

College students are usually still relatively new to banking and using credit and debit cards. The convenience and financial freedom come with risk and responsibly, so always be careful and smart with your money.
Sarah Gilbert is a 2011 graduate of Shippensburg University. She lives and works in Chambersburg, Pa.

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