I have been asked by several people to blog about my recent experience. I aim to please, so here goes.
I stopped to get some food and a drink late one afternoon as I was famished and needed a snack. My check card did not work. That was strange because I knew I had plenty of money in the account to cover my purchase, so I logged into my handy-dandy mobile bank app and discovered that I had a whopping $12.77 left in my account. That was way less than it should have been by several hundred dollars.
Everything turned black for a second and I literally could not breathe. There was no way that could possibly be correct!! We had just gotten paid the previous Friday and I keep very careful track of our expenditures. I scrolled through the transactions, and found thirteen transactions in varying amounts at Wal-Mart stores in three different cities, all from the same date. Well, Deputy D and I were both at home on those dates and had definitely not been on a Wal-Mart shopping spree.
I called Deputy D and could barely get enough words out to tell him what was wrong. After several minutes of trying to verbalize what was going on, he finally understood what I was saying and cop-mode kicked in and he started barking orders. He sent me to the bank to talk to someone, while he called our local police department.
I was in tears by the time I got to the teller's window (who ended up being the assistant branch manager), and she calmly helped walk me through the conversation as she looked up my account. She was very helpful and compassionate, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated her assistance through the entire process. Once I told her what was wrong, she asked me a couple of telling questions. She asked were the transactions in three specific cities in amounts of around $99? Well yes, most of them were. And had we recently eaten at a particular local restaurant in the last couple of weeks by any chance? Well yes, we had.
Turns out that I was the sixth person to come into my branch that week with the exact same problem. And by same problem, I mean we had all eaten at the same restaurant, and all had the same unauthorized transaction amounts at the same Wal-Mart stores. Suspicious, isn't it? The bank's security department had already flagged the transactions as suspicious because they were out of my normal purchasing routines, and she immediately cancelled my check card.
I started thinking about the evening we ate at the restaurant, and I should have listened to my inner Spidey-sense that night. Maybe, I could have saved us a lot of stress and time. The waiter kept my card for at least 20 minutes, which was really unusual. When he returned, I signed a receipt that said he had keyed my information in because my card would not swipe and had an imprint of my card at the bottom. I didn't argue, because we had been having trouble swiping my card every time I used it. I left a tip, signed the receipt, and went on my way without giving it too much thought.
I know. Stupid, right?
It turns out that these people can use a skimmer to take your card information and put it onto a blank card with their name on it, so the cashiers who check them out are never the wiser. They put my check card info onto their fake cards, and then went to Wal-Mart and purchased prepaid gift cards. They simply do transaction after transaction after transaction until the card is declined because there is no money left. They keep the amounts small so they have more of a chance of the transactions going through. I would think that any cashier worth keeping would find these types on transactions suspicious or know that they are supposed to watch out for them since this is apparently a really common crime, unless they were in on it. But what do I know?
Our local police department would not take a report because we suspected that the theft of the information was actually in a neighboring city's jurisdiction. We filed a police report with them, but they said we would have to file a report with each individual city for the use of the cards in those cities. Work was kind enough to let me take a day off to take care of this, and we actually did travel to each of the three cities and file reports. However, in each of these three cities, the police departments argued with us and did not want to take a report because they said our local department should be taking the report and handling everything.
What it boils down to is that they have no way of actually catching the people who did this, so no one wants to add another report to the stack of hundreds of reports that already exist. The waiter probably was hired under a fake name and address, and has probably already left town. One of the police departments we visited with said that their Wal-Mart has military-grade surveillance cameras in place and even been used to solve crimes across the highway, but even though the people where caught red-handed on video, there was no way of knowing who they actually are to arrest them.
Out of the five police departments we visited with and filed reports with, not one has called us back for a follow-up or to get more information. Deputy D says that they will wait an appropriate time (basically enough time for me to calm down and stop feeling victimized), and then they will call to tell me that they are sorry but they are closing the case because they have no leads and no one of catching the person that did this to me.
I did feel really victimized, even though Deputy D still thinks that is funny that I felt violated. Someone stole my personal information, and had the audacity to think they had the right to the money that Deputy D and I worked hard for. And they are going to get away with it. I still feel a little panicky every time I log on to check my bank account, and the when I went in to make a deposit I would not let go of the check and the teller had to rip it out of my hands. I was assured that our account itself was safe, that just our check card information was compromised.
We filed a dispute claim with the bank, and the fraud department ruled in our favor and just replaced the money that was taken. I am grateful for that, but I am amazed at their procedures. I just got a letter in the mail this weekend that the bank noticed some unusual activity on my card and has frozen my account until they talked to me. A letter. In the mail. After everything was already said and done and the police reports were filed and I was moving on. Really??
From now on, we will not be using a check card at any location for anything unless we are the ones who actually swipe it. There is still a chance we could be swiping a card skimmer, but it at least makes me feel better to be the one who swipes. And we are only going to use cash or a credit card in restaurants or stores that we are not familiar with. I might even dig a hole in the backyard to bury coffee cans with our money from now on. I have hesitated to shop online or use my new card anywhere.
I know eventually it will all pass and I will be alright again. And I really am grateful that the bank replaced the money and everything was taken care of. But I am still REALLY mad at the guy that felt he had the right to just take all my money because he doesn't want to work for a living. And I am still REALLY mad that he is going to get away with it.
I thought maybe if I shared my experience, it would help other people protect themselves a bit more or would know what to expect if it ever happens to them. Plus, it just feels good to vent and get it off my chest.