The bar graph that Statista displays on its website shows the increase in amounts of money lost in the United States due to debit/credit card fraud from 2012 to 2018. From a distance, the bars look like a series of broad steps going up the side of a mountain. When the figures are added to the graph, the overall image doesn’t change; it simply begs the question, just how high is this mountain going to go?
From 2012 to 2018, losses from debit card fraud increased from $5.6 billion to $9.1 billion—an increase of 60%. Those figures are staggering and demonstrate just how pervasive the crime is becoming. However, it’s a totally different experience when the fraud happens closer to home, as has recently been the case in Kiowa County. That firsthand experience illustrates how crime that occurs in the virtual world of technology seems very different from the crime committed in “days of old” as even “the when” and “the how” are difficult to ascertain. But the impact of the crime feels no different from someone reaching in and stealing your debit card straight out of your wallet.
At least, that’s how a variety of local people describe the experience they went through in recent weeks when their debit cards were compromised by what is believed to be criminals located in Ohio and Michigan.
As most people know, GNBank is one of 14 community banks located in 14 different communities in Kansas and Southeastern Colorado. “Of those 14 community banks,” Sean Lening, Community Bank President of GNBank in Kiowa County, states, “approximately eight have been seeing a larger than normal volume of debit card fraud. We’ve seen much more in Eads than we had in prior months this year. But it’s very hard to tell when or how the debit cards were compromised.”
Lening wasn’t sure exactly how many accounts had debit cards that were compromised. But he wants to make sure that, upfront, customers understand what debit card fraud is and what it is not. “It’s important for customers to understand that their accounts were not ‘hacked’,” he says. “Their debit cards were compromised at some time and place, enabling debit card fraud to take place. However, there is nothing wrong with their accounts, nor is this fraud taking place because something at the bank was ‘hacked’. In fact, banks spend a tremendous amount of money to ensure that customer information is kept secure.”
What’s often difficult for people to understand is exactly how they can be the victim of debit card fraud when they didn’t do anything different from what they normally do. Lening has obviously spent a great deal of time on this very subject. “Debit card fraud can be caused many different ways,” he says. “ATM and pay at the pump card ‘skimmers’ is a common way. Skimmers are basically attachments to ATMs and pay at the pump machines that essentially copy the information of a debit or credit card. Fraudsters use this information to make duplicate copies of the cards and then use the cards at various merchants until they’re caught and the cards are cancelled. Sometimes the fraud is caused by a large retailer getting hacked,” he goes on to say, recalling a large theft of card information at Target a couple of years ago. “I’m not sure how this happened but essentially anyone that shopped at Target during a certain time frame had their debit and credit card information stolen when those cards were used for purchases. Like the case with the skimmers, criminals then duplicate cards and begin making purchases.” Even using a card at a restaurant may be risky. “When the customer gives their card to their server,” Lening explains, “all of the card information can simply be written down and then used to make a duplicate card. Because of this type of fraud, more and more restaurants are now bring the point of sale machine to the table to be scanned so it never leaves the customer hand. This won’t eliminate fraud, but it helps mitigate one type.”
The question that often follows right on the heels of “how did this happen” is “will I get my money back”? Lening has a steady answer for that, as well. “It’s important for people to understand that as long as they identify the fraud and alert the bank within an appropriate amount of time, they’re normally not liable for any losses,” he explains. “This is why it is extremely important for every customer to review their monthly statement or view their transactions daily online or with the bank app. This helps identify fraud before it gets out of hand and this timing can make a difference in the customer being allowed to dispute the charges and be reimbursed.”
It doesn’t take a genius to realize just how costly debit card fraud could become. “This is a big reason the bank has daily limits for ATM withdrawals and point of sale purchases,” Lening states. “Those security measures are put into place to protect the customers’ money and to limit the amount of exposure the bank faces as well. Sometimes these limits are criticized by customers, but they’re extremely important in a customer’s financial safety.”
Given the complexity of cybercrimes and the fact that criminals are getting smarter and smarter at finding new ways to defraud others, it’s important to keep some very real safety practices and safeguards in mind. This is a topic Lening can talk about at length. It’s also a topic that people cannot be reminded of enough.
“People just need to be very aware of when and where they use their cards,” Lening says. “They need to look at the ATM or pay at the pump terminal to see if it looks different. There are lots of pictures on google to show what a normal ATM looks like and what one with a skimmer attached looks like. Same goes for the pay at the pump terminals. If something looks suspicious or out of the ordinary go to another ATM or pay inside of the gas station when you can.” He goes on to discuss online shopping. “People also need to be very cautious when making purchases online. I do lots of shopping online,” he says, “but only from retailers that I know. I will not attempt to purchase something from a business I have never heard of just because they claim to have a better price. Many times these are foreign ‘businesses’.”
It was just a matter of time before the subject of Facebook came up. “There are so many ‘deals’ on Facebook that we all see every day from our friends,” he muses. “Some of these ‘friends’ we’ve never met and don’t really know, yet we’ll trust them when making purchases from suggested retailers or sites. A little common sense goes a very long way when mitigating debit card fraud.”
Put another way, common sense may keep a person from ending up on one of those steps leading up the mountain.
Lening takes a moment before summing up the situation. “Regardless of fraud,” he says, “it’s my opinion that debit and credit cards are still very safe and convenient to use. We’re always going to see fraud in some form, but, more times than not, transactions made with these cards are safe.”
Anyone seeing a suspicious charge on their account should immediately contact GNBank at 719-438-5832 during the hours of 8:30am to 4:30pm.