Posts Tagged ‘Operational Security’

It’s already happened to me twice.

A couple of years ago, on July 4th weekend, we were doing some grocery shopping for a family barbeque.  To pay for the items, I used a debit card and it was turned down.  I was mortified and mystified at the same time, since I knew the account had funds.  I ended up paying with cash.   When I called the bank, the security department informed me that several charges had appeared against the account all at once from all over town so they had frozen the account. I checked online and I found about 30 miscellaneous charges, ranging from $30-$70 from different stores.   The account indeed, had been hacked.  That weekend, we had no funds available, as we only had that one bank account, and the credit card was with the same bank and they shut that off too.  We only had around $40 cash and that had to last til  the weekend was over.  I believe the account was compromised by a PayPal transaction after an Ebay purchase we had made.  We ended up closing it and opening up a new one when the branch was open.

We had learned from our mistakes and established multiple (free) checking accounts for various purposes:  online bill pay, online purchases, and a separate one for fixed expenses such as rent.   The account that is used for online purchases does not have a lot of funds.  Our other accounts are NEVER used for debit card business.  I know credit cards are better for online shopping or travel but we avoid credit cards since are trying to pay off debt.

Fast forward to the present…  This past Fourth of July weekend (again!) I was checking over the bank accounts online and found a suspicious transaction.   A payment was made to an online dating service, UK branch, against my debit card, along with international transaction fees.   Now I know I did not make that charge, and never have had any dealings with any online dating service, now or in the past, much less the UK branch.  I believe that some hacker is testing to see if they can make transactions against our account unnoticed, so they can make further withdrawals.  I called the bank’s security department and they immediately shut down that debit card.  I am now checking daily to make sure no further transactions occur.  So far so good.  I am not too worried this time, as very little cash is in that account, and the bank indicated they will restore any funds missing.  I may never know for sure how they got into the account, it could have been from an online transaction.

The bottom line is, anyone can be victimized by these identity thieves, and they can come from anywhere, even internationally.

Take steps to protect yourself:

  • Use only one designated debit or credit card for online transactions  so you can easily track your purchases.  If using a debit card, do not keep a lot of cash in that account to minimize damages.
  • Make sure the site you are buying from is secure.
  • Monitor your accounts every couple of days, or at the very least once a week to catch any suspicious transactions.
  • Contact your bank immediately if you spot any discrepancies.
  • Shred all documents, pay stubs, letters, statements that have your name or account numbers.
  • Be very selective about giving your social security number, birth date, phone number.  Unless the requestor gives a valid reason, just say, “No I don’t share that information.”
  • Keep enough cash in the house to cover a few days worth of expenses such as food and gas
  • Order a free copy of your credit report annually to make sure no new accounts have been opened in your name

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Yesterday an incident occurred that bothered me so I took some precautions.  I went to the bank at lunch to withdraw cash for the following week.   I use cash rather than debit or credit so I take out the budgeted amount each payday.  I normally go the small bank branch at the grocery store in a nice downtown location not far from work.  I do my errands before the lunch traffic starts, between 10:30-11 a.m.  I did notice that the parking lot is no longer patrolled as it was earlier this year.

I went to the first available teller.  She looked like she just started working there, as I am familiar with the staff.  I try to be quick and discreet at the bank; speak in low tones and have the teller count the bills behind the counter instead of on top where everyone can see.  Unfortunately, the new teller was not quite so discreet.  I asked to withdraw $450 and she loudly asked, “Would you like your $450 in large bills, Ma’am?”  First I thought, gee, why’d she have to be so loud, and I hope to get out of here quickly, then I got this odd feeling of someone staring at me.  I looked over and this guy at the next teller was staring intently at me.  I don’t mean glancing or curiously looking, I mean a deep, unflinching stare. He did not even look away when I looked over at him.  Of course he heard every word.  I thought to myself, I do not like the way that man was listening in and looking at me.  It was a very strange feeling that made me uneasy.  So I told the lady to cancel my transaction.  I told her, “On second thought, cancel it and I will come back later.” I took back my withdrawal slip and walked away.

I went to the adjoining grocery store, got a shopping cart even though I did not need anything and started looking around the store.  I did not want anyone following me to my car.   I wandered around the aisles for a while until I felt safe enough to go back to my car.  I left the bank errand for later.

Today as I run though the incident in my mind, I wonder if I did the right thing.   After all, the guy could have been harmless, and I may have been “profiling” him because he was dressed in baggy gang type attire, young, etc.  On the other hand,  I have heard a lot of crime victims who describe getting that strange feeling but for some reason did not listen to their gut, or did not want to seem rude and ended up as victims of crime.   I do not want to end up as a crime victim.  Part of having a survival mindset is to evaluate your environment and trust your own instinct.  I don’t care if anyone calls me paranoid–I do not regret beating a hasty exit.

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