They want your account

Castleton student Lacey Parmenter was at Kinney Drugs getting Advil and a protein bar, a simple $6 transaction. She swiped her credit card and saw the words ‘Invalid Purchase.’ After trying to run it through as debit with no success, she realized something was wrong.  

“It was all I had on me, so I left and called my mom to see if she had any problems too, and she said she did, but she could use the ATM, so we just kinda thought it was a bank thing,” she said. “Sure enough a few hours later she called me and was like ‘Someone actually tried to use your card in Dallas this morning at a Chase Motel.’ And I was like ‘Umm, I’m not there.’”

She switched over to a chip-reader card a few weeks before her account was hacked, so they used information from her non-chip card and were unable to successfully make any of the purchases they’d attempted to. Had the hackers been slightly quicker though, she said “she would’ve been toast.”

Do you own a credit or debit card?

If you answered yes to that question, you’re part of the 70 percent of Americans who have at least one card. But how much do you actually know about that thin, little piece of plastic you carry around almost everywhere. More importantly, how safe do you believe your finances are?

Credit cards use data, and data can be hacked rather easily. In fact, reported 32 data records were lost or stolen every second in 2014. That reflects worldwide data breaches, however the United States alone accounts for 72 percent of those occurrences. Based on that statistic, U.S. citizens face potentially the highest risk of having information or money stolen through their card.

Simply accessing someone's credit card number may be easy to some scammers. They often devise schemes to get the information out of you in a variety of ways, from pretending to be a person who works for a credit card company to claiming a relative has been held hostage. The latter was a common scam in Chittenden County this past summer, according to WCAX News.   

Whether you’re aware of it or not, we all probably know at least one person who has fallen victim to some form of credit fraud or theft.

While attending a music school in Manhattan, Alec Welsh became a credit card scam statistic.

“I was the victim in two separate scams … Now I’m not sure how safe my information is,” he said in a recent interview. “The first was my own fault. I was naive and tried helping a guy out, but he ended up just screwing me over. I think that scam somehow brought my information into like, a network of scammers, because not long after, I was subjected to another scam involving my card. I’ve since had to change my info.”

While he is an example of a cardholder facing trouble in a major city, the risk is still high in rural areas as well – even in Castleton. Student Nicole Webster wasn’t as fortunate as Parmenter, in that she did lose cash.

“My bank called me and told me my debit card was being used in Canada. And it was weird because they were using it at restaurants, which normally you need the physical card for that,” Webster said. “The bank called me the day after they were using it because they actually tried to overdraft my account.”

She then went to her bank and began a process to figure out how much of her money was spent. Once everything was tallied up, the bank was able to cover the loss, but had the activity been reported a few days later, they might not have been as helpful.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you report theft more than two days after it occurred, you could lose as much as $500 the bank may be ineligible to replace.

Logan Tow, a junior at Castleton, had an experience similar to Webster's. His card was being used in Washington D.C. for a day before his bank let him know.

“I guess they went to Ruby Tuesday twice and then to a movie. I think it totaled out to something like $75,” Tow said.

The suspicious activity was reported in a timely manner so he was reimbursed by his bank. Credit card hackers generally make a series of smaller purchases, before making a major one and really hitting your bank account where it hurts.

Lisa Kelly, a teller at Citizen’s Bank in Castleton, spoke briefly about credit card theft.

“There’s no one way to avoid theft. It can happen in many ways. One thing I do to prevent it is keeping separate accounts. I use one for online shopping and things of that nature, and the other where I keep most of my money,” she said.

But while there’s no guaranteed method to protect yourself from credit card theft, there are steps that can be taken to prevent it. Notifying your card company when you travel, being careful with your receipts and banking statements, keeping your card in eye range when handing it over to a cashier, or even keeping cards separate from your cash wallet are a examples.

The main thing is to be aware of the reality that scammers exist and want your information. 

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