Protecting Your Pin Code and Your Money

Consumer Watch Katy Henthorne said "Honestly, I was livid. I was furious and I was angry, and a little scared that somebody had managed to get into my account so easily."

Thieves were able to copy Katy Henthorne's debit-card information ... the pin code and the account number. She is grateful her bank spotted the theft almost immediately.

"They saved me potentially thousands of dollars," said Henthorne.

Consumer Reports' Tobie Stanger says the equipment thieves need to copy your debit-card information is available online.

"Criminals secretly install a device called a 'skimmer' on your ATM machine," said Stanger.

Thieves then use the stolen information to create a new card. Attorney John Campbell, who helps victims of bank-card fraud, says that can lead to disaster.

Bank Fraud Attorney John Campbell said, "Your whole account could be wiped out, including money you had set aside for your mortgage, for your car payment, for other payments."

Campbell says you're most vulnerable at places like gas stations, convenience stores, and airports where it's easier to install skimmers. But even at your bank's ATM, check to make sure nothing looks loose or out of place.

Fortunately, there is one simple thing you can do to get better protection.

"When you're making a purchase with your bank card, press 'credit' not 'debit," said Stanger.

The money is still deducted like a debit, but you don't use your pin code ... and so a criminal can't steal it. And by using the "credit" option, in most cases you'll only be responsible for 50 dollars of any loss. Katy says now she never uses her pin code unless the bank teller asks for it.

Another important way to protect against debit-card theft - check your account frequently online. That way you can spot any suspicious activity right away.


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