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Thief steals $22,000 with counterfeit debit card: Money Matters

November 11, 2018

Thief steals $22,000 with counterfeit debit card: Money Matters

Q: I have been a customer of Dollar Bank for 41 years and never had a problem. In September, I found out that my bank account was hacked and that $22,111 was stolen from my account. All of these thefts took place in and around the Toledo area. The thieves used gas station ATMs to steal the money over a period of 45 days starting in mid-July, with withdrawals of $100 at a time until they reached the daily limit. Then they would do it again the next day.

I travel extensively for my work. The large amount was in my checking account as I am purchasing a home and had the money in a separate bank account for safe keeping. I guess it turned out it wasn’t so safe after all.  

The police department of several cities are investigating this. There have been verified incidents of card skimmers being placed on local gas station pumps and ATM machines.

In the meantime, Dollar Bank has DENIED my request to reimburse this money. They state that they cannot prove that it WASN’T me that took all of this money out. I mentioned I travel extensively for my work. I have proof of airlines flights, hotels, etc. that I was in California, New York, Florida and Chicago at the dates and times these transactions took place. I sent a letter about this to the CEO of Dollar Bank, James McQuade, and I haven’t even gotten a routine response from the bank at all.

I believe Dollar Bank is an unsafe bank. Their technology and security is antiquated, and there is absolutely ZERO customer service when it comes to a critical issue like this. I opened my Dollar Bank account when I was a teenager and got my first job at McDonald’s. I have been a loyal customer since the 1970s. I’ve been fighting with Dollar Bank for six weeks. I don’t know what to do at this point.

L.J., Brunswick

A: The day after I contacted Dollar Bank’s headquarters in Pittsburgh, the bank started the process to return your money, according to Joseph Smith, a Dollar Bank senior vice president. He declined to comment beyond saying your issue was resolved.

It’s interesting, though, that Dollar Bank agreed to return the $22,111 that was stolen from your account on the condition that you close your account. You said Dollar wired the money to you, which was easy considering you also have accounts with PNC, Huntington and Key.

Your case is a bit troubling, though. You indicated that the police investigating this said the Toledo neighborhood where your account was accessed has been flooded with skimmers, which are tiny devices that thieves affix to the slot of a card reader, such as at a gas station or ATM, to steal card information and any information entered, such as a PIN or ZIP code.

But normally, to make a cash withdrawal using a debit card, one would need the card’s PIN. You said you didn’t use this debit card much and don’t recall using it anywhere where your PIN could have been compromised through a skimmer.

You told me that no one knows your PIN and it’s not written down anywhere, and you also didn’t lose your debit card. Clearly, it was duplicated with a counterfeit card. You also didn’t recognize the young man who showed up in the security videos using the ATM at the time your account was being hacked.

Obviously, $22,000 is a ton of money to just about everyone. But at least this theft wasn’t as devastating during the time it took to get your money back as it could have been because it didn’t involve your primary bank account. I beg people who want a debit card to get one on a secondary account -- not the account where you have most of your money, get your direct deposit paychecks or retirement payments, or use to pay important bills such as your mortgage or rent. Clearly, to have a secondary account, you must open a second checking account.

You did indicate you made one mistake, in hindsight: You weren’t monitoring this account regularly. You said you monitor your other accounts, because you use them. You said you weren’t using the Dollar Bank account, since that money was for a home purchase down payment. “I never even thought to check it,” you said. You found out your account contained only 97 cents after your $12,500 check to your home builder bounced.

You advise people now to do the same thing I’ve recommended for years: Check every financial account you have regularly. Weekly is good. Daily is better. Do it online. Or do it by phone. But do it.

In addition, I encourage people to sign up for text or email alerts about activity outside the bounds of their normal transactions. You decide what levels are abnormal -- ATM withdrawals exceeding a certain amount, a balance that falls below a certain threshold, whatever.

You also said the police gave you a good piece of advice: Don’t use a debit card at a gas station self-pay pump. If you do, avoid the pumps that are furthest from the gas station clerk’s line of sight. Thieves often place skimmers on pumps that are obscured.

You’re this week’s poster child about why debit cards can be dangerous, compared to credit cards: If you have a fraudulent credit card transaction, you don’t have to pay the amount in dispute while it’s being investigated.

But with a debit card, the money is already gone from your checking account, as you found, and you’re fighting to get your own money back. Also, if this involves an account you make payments from, and those checks or electronic payments bounce, who covers those fees? There is absolutely nothing in most banks’ terms and conditions that indicates your overdraft/non-sufficient funds fees will be refunded.

Stay tuned for a follow-up column on things you should know if you have a debit card -- whether you use it or not.

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