Watch out for skimmers II

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

We wrote in this space earlier describing the shock of having our debit card information stolen. That information was used to purchase items at a hardware store in Ohio.

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.

Another family member was alerted by a bank fraud detection unit that her debit card was compromised and that purchases using that information were attempted on the Mainland and in Mexico.

Usually, the card information is 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.

Some credit and debit cards now have chips in them instead of magnetic stripes. They supposedly make the information much harder to steal. But there are still many cards with the magnetic stripes.

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.

If you have online banking, check your account status regularly. Early detection is essential.

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.

And, sometimes, it is many hundreds.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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