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  • Melanie Ernst

Maybe Cash is the Way to Go!

A short while back, I posted an article from the Madison County Journal about different scams. I was familiar with many of the scams mentioned, but not all. The deputy being interviewed mentioned one that I realized I had little knowledge of but one that could potentially affect me and my family. I'm talking about credit and debit card skimmers. After doing some research I have decided that I'm going back to using cash more often.

In the past, most skimming has taken place at ATMs, where crooks mask a real card slot with their own device, disguised to look like the real thing. Some of these ATM skimmers are extremely convincing. They read your personal info off the card's magnetic strip, while a secret camera films victims punching in their PIN numbers.

And the skimmer crime ring, is open to anyone. Skimming devices can be bought legally online for around $200.00.

Initially, the skimmers occurred at ATMs but now they are turning up frequently in gas pumps and restaurants. I'm sure it won't stop there. Guess we're not safe anywhere. There is some consolation that, if your card gets skimmed, your bank or other issuer will probably make good on the loss, provided you report the incident promptly. But if the card details are also used for identity theft, you could spend months trying to sort out the damage.

So how can you tell if your card has been skimmed? The only way you'll know is if you notice transactions on your card that you didn't make. If you only look at your bank statement once a month, it may be too late to recover your loss. That's why authorities recommend having online access to your accounts so you can check your activity daily. It only takes a couple minutes to set this up and your bank will be more than happy to help if you're unsure how to proceed.

Below you'll find tips for ATM scams. In addition, if your bank doesn't charge for it (some do now), you might consider withdrawing your cash via the teller rather than using the ATM, or having a separate account in which you keep only a small cash float with a strict "no-overdrawing" provision. Beyond that, the banks and card companies themselves have a lot to do in the use of sophisticated microchips on cards, which are more difficult for skimmers to read.

The same goes for gas station operators who have been duped into allowing their pumps to be tampered with. They need to alter the default security codes on their machines and double-check the credentials of anyone supposedly carrying out maintenance.

8 Tips to Help You Protect Yourself From ATM Theft:

1. Get in the habit of using the same ATM machine for your transactions. Become familiar with it and be able to recognize changes to the machine.

2. Use ATM machines inside banks rather than on the street (where they're easier for thieves to access)

3. If you're visiting an unfamiliar ATM machine that is not inside a bank, examine it carefully for devices. Card or cash trapping devices need to be glued or taped to the card reader or cash dispenser. Look for extra cameras beyond the basic and generally obvious ATM security.

4. Never rely on the help of strangers to retrieve a confiscated card.

5. Never use an ATM machine when other people are lingering.

6. Report confiscated cards immediately. If you can, don't leave the machine. Instead call the bank from the ATM where your card was taken using a cell phone.

7. Don't use ATMs with extra signage or warnings posted on the machine.

8. Never follow a link in a supposed bank email notice. If you are wondering if your bank has really contacted you via email, then close the email and directly type your bank's website into your browser. Visit your account and look for update notices directly on your account or bank's website. The email is almost always a phishing scam.

Before the use of debit cards was so widespread, I remember worrying when I carried cash. I was always worried about losing it or getting robbed. Now that I've changed my habits and use my credit/debit card for most of my purchases and payments, I have to be concerned that my funds and identity may be stolen through the use of skimmers. Of course, the thieves will not prosper majorly from my bank account, but the identity theft issue opens another can of worms I don't want to deal with. So, I think I'll go back to using cash for all but online purchases.

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