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Somebody's Watching Me

A Casual coda.

8:26 AM, Jun 7, 2014 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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It figures. In the June 2 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, I devoted a Casual to my inability to keep pace with technology. Try as I might, at some point in time, it gets to be a bit much (I refuse to pay anything by smartphone). But much of the column was spent poking fun at my parents for being so "out of it." My mother still refuses to use ATMs, which I deemed irrational. But then I noticed someone had been pilfering our family checking account for thousands of dollars using my debit card number. I never lost the card, but someone had been hitting up ATMs all over town. Suddenly the thought of standing in line to see a teller didn't seem so ridiculous.

I'm rather careful when it comes to my debit card—I never use it to outright pay for anything, whether it be at restaurants, supermarkets, or gas stations. I do my best, as noted in the Casual, to only use it at my bank's ATMs. On the phone, a bank employee told me there were many ways someone can steal a debit card without physically stealing it: standing close behind you, taking a photo, etc. But what seems to be happening more and more these days is the rigging of ATMs with skimming devices. You slide your card into the skimmer's slot, which is placed in front of the actual ATM slot. It reads your card's number and a tiny camera hidden somewhere nearby gets a photo of you punching in your PIN.

The bank official said that, sadly, debit card fraud has become all too common and the security personnel are busier than ever. Also shocking was how many times the perpetrators hit ATMs all over town taking out hundreds of dollars at a time. It had been about 10 days since I last checked my balance, so you can imagine how much damage they did. But to the bank's credit (the fraud investigation is still pending), my account has already been at least temporarily credited. I only wished this sort of irregular activity was flagged earlier (not even in Vegas have I withdrawn so much cash in a day) and that I checked my balance more than once a week.

"You'll be fine," my mother assured me. She explained that I notified the bank in a timely manner and that I should expect to be remunerated. How was she so certain? My mother was so concerned that she went to her local bank to inquire. "The teller immediately told me to come over and then she brought over [a fraud] expert. She told him I'm one of their best customers." (Thanks, I get it.) This expert then discussed the problems involving ATM machines. Apparently it's hard for banks to keep up with these high-tech criminals who are always finding new ways to skim.

"So from now on, go to a teller," my mother concluded. I'm sure I won't. Few of us have time to stand in those bank lines and will simply have to take our chances at ATMs. Of course, the possibility of my mother being targeted for debit card fraud remains zero.

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