Debit card fraud?
July 29, 2009 2:25 PM   Subscribe

What to do about suspected debit card fraud?

I was just checking my account balance and noticed it is overdrawn by $300. Puzzled by this (as I keep a thousand dollar cushion in the account), I went through the charges. Admittedly, due to having recent surgery this is the first month I've been lax in following my charges daily in quite some time.

There are crazy charges on here - not for crazy amounts of money, but for inexplicable store visits. They all appear at the same grocery store. It shows 5 visits to the grocery store on Saturday, 3 on Sunday, 3 on Monday, 1 on Tuesday. It's only my husband and I living here, and I feel like I would recall going to the grocery store that many times but I don't. Neither does he. We also don't have a house stocked full of food to correspond to this.

We called the bank and they informed us that our pin was entered for each of these transactions, so we must have made them. They were very unhelpful and only offered to issue us new cards.

My question: is this possible? Did I visit a grocery store 5 times in a single day and have no memory of it? Then 3 times the next day and 3 the day after? Are thieves sophisticated enough to have used both my correct card AND my pin?

What are my next steps?
posted by sickinthehead to Work & Money (15 answers total)
First of all I'd for sure cancel that card immediately with the bank!
posted by tristeza at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2009

Cancel the card first and foremost.

Talk to your bank about disputing those charges too.

If you didn't go to the store, then someone obviously has your information.

It's possible they swiped it if you used a compromised atm or paid for gas (or anything really) via debit.
posted by royalsong at 2:30 PM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: Definitely canceling the card. What makes this weird is that they are all at the grocery store that I normally visit!
posted by sickinthehead at 2:32 PM on July 29, 2009

Do you have a child? Or nephew/niece? Is there a possibility they could have your card and information?

Do you physically have the card on you right now?
posted by royalsong at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: Did I visit a grocery store 5 times in a single day and have no memory of it? Then 3 times the next day and 3 the day after? Are thieves sophisticated enough to have used both my correct card AND my pin?

Um, probably not? That's a hard one to answer, because most people don't really consider that possibility when they see odd charges coming up on their bill. Is there any chance that you made them? You need to sit down and retrace where you've been over the past few days and eliminate that possibility, because if you even hint at the possibility that you might have made those charges when dealing with the bank, you're never going to admit them. You need to get your story straight right now.

So, assuming you didn't in fact wander out and eat a kilobuck of Oreos on a park bench in the middle of the night, chances are you got your number and PIN ripped off. This is not unheard of. Thieves will put a "dip reader" (basically a magnetic stripe reader like the kind on gas pumps) over the normal card slot on an ATM, and position a hidden camera so it can see the number pad. Between the two devices, they will have both your card number and PIN. With that, they can burn the number to a blank card, and use the PIN to make purchases and drain your account.

However, all that is really not necessary for you to know. I would wager that most people who become victims of ATM/debit card fraud do not know anything about how their numbers get stolen; frankly if you sound like you know a lot about the process to the bank, it'll probably start to sound suspicious to them.

I would call up immediately (there may be a time limit on these things) and have the card put on "hot card" status. This will stop any further use of it. Then you will need to dispute the charges and any overdraft fees. They will investigate (theoretically, cross-referencing the disputed charges against other known-to-be-fradulent charges to see if it fits a pattern), and hopefully reimburse you. Some places require you to contact the police and report it as identity theft, while other banks don't. (I've had family members get stonewalled until they went to the police to report it, and other times they just got the money magically replaced without much argument at all.)

However you are working against a deadline here; sometimes you only have 14 days from the time you receive your statement to dispute any charges on it that aren't yours, after which you may be stuck or have to get nasty to get anything done. I would absolutely not delay.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: Call the bank immediately, or even go into your local branch to get the process started. This happened to me in April, with most of my checking and savings getting wiped out in a couple of days, mostly at stores and banks within about a 2-mile radius of my home. In my case, Citibank cancelled the card immediately and refunded everything that was taken from my account within a few days. (I wasn't liable for any amount of the fraud, though that policy can differ from bank to bank; as I understand it, consumers have fewer legal protections in terms of liability regarding debit cards than they do with credit cards.)

I had the card in my possession the whole time this happened. I am assuming (though I've never heard the final story from Citi in terms of the outcome of their fraud investigation) is that my account number and PIN were lifted at a store (I have always suspected one in particular) when I swiped the card to pay. Evidently, thieves can use devices to lift the account nos. and the PIN so that they can essentially create a new card that can be used at ATMs, stores, etc.
posted by scody at 2:41 PM on July 29, 2009

Typo/brainfart correction:

You need to sit down and retrace where you've been over the past few days and eliminate that possibility, because if you even hint at the possibility that you might have made those charges when dealing with the bank, they're never going to accept them [as fraudulent].

Proofreading fail; sorry. I'm not sure what I was going for the way I wrote that sentence initially.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2009

Sorry, I missed the part where you said you'd already called your bank and they said that if the PINs were used, then you must have used the cards yourself. This is bunk, and banks have known it for several years. If they won't help, maybe call the consumer protection office in your state?
posted by scody at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2009

1) Cancel the card.
2) Tell your bank that you didn't make the charges.
3) Call the police. Not 911 though. Your bank will most likely require a police report.

This happened to me a few years turned into comedic hijinx.

Unlike your situation, I actually physically lost my card. I left it on a Stop & Shop counter in Connecticut. A few days later, I noticed a charge for $450 at the Wal-Mart next store.
I did the above steps, and the police said I had to come in and talk to a detective. I had to bring my bank statements and they asked me a few questions (did anyone else have access to the card, what I was doing that day, etc..) I left the station thinking all would be fine and get my money back.

A few days after that, I get a call from the detective. He said I would need to come in right away. I figured they caught the guy.

I get to the police station and am "escorted" to an interrogation room. Awesome. The detective comes in and throws the bank statements down in front of me. He says, "You said you lost your card at 1pm on Sunday?" I said, "Yes sir. I lost it at 1pm, then I went home."

He throws down another set of documents and says, "I contacted the issuing bank for your card and got these statements. Notice that the charges were made BEFORE 1pm. Why are you lying?"

He was elated. It literally looked like this was his first case he's cracked in years.

I said, "could I see the documents?"

He slid them to me.

I then said, "Sir, these documents list the transaction time as 11:30am MT. The issuing bank is out west. I believe the MT stands for Mountain Time".

He looks at me. Picks up the documents. Leaves the room.

About 5 minutes later, he comes in and says, "Thanks for your time. You're free to go."

Sorry for hijacking your thread. I just love telling that story.
posted by pencroft at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2009 [18 favorites]

Call the bank immediately and cancel the cards. There are formal procedures to dispute debit card transactions. When you talk to the bank, tell them you are filing a dispute for these unauthorized charges and ask for the address this should be sent to (probably the fraud department). Tell them you want your overdraft fee(s) refunded as well.

Then put literally everything you know about the situation in writing, including copies of any relevant statements/documents. Highlight the fraudulent charges. If you have any contact with the grocery store about this, you should give details of that. Send the whole thing to the bank as soon as possible. Legally, they are required to respond within 10 days (20 if the account is new) with a decision or a request for more time to investigate.

Ask your local police department if it's worth filing a police report. They may well not care, but depending on the department, they might be interested in this and concerned about fraud on the part of someone at the grocery store. Most random thieves don't keep going to the same store over and over again in the same day.
posted by zachlipton at 2:52 PM on July 29, 2009

I know it doesn't help right now, but for the future: for the love of all that is holy and unholy - never ever use a debit card for anything, other than pulling cash out of a bank ATM. Use a credit card instead. Should there be fraudulent activity on your credit card, you are not out the money while the fraud is getting resolved. Meanwhile, even assuming that the bank eventually gives back the money, you are without the cash in the meantime. That's just one of the multiple disadvantages of a debit card. My debit card sits in my drawer and I don't leave home with it (unless it's a specific trip to the bank to pull out cash). I never have to wonder if I used my debit card - because I never do for any purchase at any time. Debit card = poison... don't use it.
posted by VikingSword at 2:54 PM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: nthing Kadin2048. Follow this advice first. Dispute the charges (and any overdraft fees) IMMEDIATELY.

After that, there is a possibility someone at the local grocery store "copied" your atm card (something to do with swiping the card through a compromised reader, this scenario referenced in an earlier comment to your post...) and then the thief used your "card" for friends and family at the same store. Kinda a stupid thing to do where you work, but it has happened to me (from busboy at a restaurant in my neighborhood, of all things!)

Are there any other charges you do not recognize? Or just the grocery store charges? This info might help you figure out where your debit card info was originally stolen.

Go see your bank manager. Tell them you think someone from that particular establishment (the grocery) may have copied your card. Either the bank or the police may want to investigate this incident with the intention to prosecute. I wouldn't tell the grocery store manager, tho. You have no idea who at the store may be in on it.

There is a second possibility to fraud.... it is possible your grocery store "batches" their transactions in groups of days.... so it is possible that a collection of transactions performed over one week "hit" your account on the same day. However, disputing the charges with your bank will automatically pull the receipts from the grocery store associated with the transactions in question. So if the purchases are not yours, you'll know soon enough. This would also pull up any software glitches, like maybe transactions were misappropriated to your account on the grocery store end of things, whatever.

too many possibilities to list.

Formerly dispute the charges with your bank to begin to get to the bottom of the issue.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: What makes this weird is that they are all at the grocery store that I normally visit!

This is not at all weird--your card was skimmed, a thief has your card number and PIN, and honestly, it's probably someone who works there. Alert your bank, contact the store manager, and consider filing a police report. Seriously.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:26 PM on July 29, 2009

Call the police. It's a crime. jbenben is right, there are too many possibilities to list. The fact that the transactions all hit over a short period of time at a local grocery store means it's almost certainly some kind of fraud. These people can't be stopped if the police don't know about it.

Also, it could be it was stolen by someone at the hospital who had time to rifle through your wallet, and get the needed info. while you were sleeping off the anaesthetic.
posted by eleslie at 3:36 PM on July 29, 2009

I hate to say this, but I had to actually close my account to get the endless debit card fraud transactions to end. Yes, even though the card was canceled. It is more difficult than you might think to get the ongoing charges to go away permanently.

I wrote this up at some length on my blog (self link, but very relevant), where I describe my fraud experience, and my lessons learned.
posted by Invoke at 9:10 AM on July 30, 2009

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