Watch out for skimmers

Credit cards and debit cards are very easy to use and many of us have replaced most of our cash transactions with them.

We assume, despite repeated news stories to the contrary, that the cards are secure and that our bank accounts and identity are safe when we use them.

It comes as a shock, therefore, when a bank fraud detection unit calls to ask about questionable transactions on your card. It is even more of a shock when you find out that somebody actually used a physical card with your number on it to make substantial purchases at a hardware store in Ohio.

Apparently, the card information was obtained through a process known as skimming. An electronic device is used to read the information on the magnetic stripe on your credit or debit card. Often it is done when the card is presented to pay a food or bar bill and the person using the skimmer is out of sight of the customer.

However, there are more sophisticated skimming machines that can be placed over card slots at gas stations and other slot-operated credit card readers.

The best advice is to go over your credit card statements carefully if you use them for a lot of purchases. It also helps to have a bank that has a sharp fraud detection unit that notices purchases in different geographic areas and multiple uses of the card in a single store.

Electronic theft is unsettling. One moment you are blindly going about your business and the next minute a phone call lets you know you’ve been victimized. Didn’t see it coming, didn’t see it happen – but it is every bit as real as someone grabbing a hundred-dollar bill out of your hand.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.