It’s holiday season, and since it’s peak season for shoppers, it’s also peak season for skimmers, scammers, and thieves. There are devices out there now that can be inserted very quickly and seamlessly into credit card machines, and you would never be able to tell, and even if you’re super duper careful, any company is susceptible to a data breach.
Thankfully, I signed up months ago for a new credit card (the Amazon Rewards card from Chase, if you’re wondering) specifically because I’d seen some of the newer skimmers and was concerned about using my debit card. I’d decided then that I didn’t want to risk someone getting access to my bank account and cleaning that out, so I got the card to make all my purchases with. I budget it as if it’s a debit card, and then I pay it off at the end of the month. As an added bonus, I get free money to buy Christmas gifts on Amazon. It turned out that my gut was right, and I’m thankful for that extra layer of security. Chase handled the situation beautifully, catching many of the charges before I did, shutting down the account, and setting me up with a new card. I’m not responsible for any of the fraudulent charges, and that saved me a ton of stress.
So of course my first piece of advice is to absolutely get a credit card if you can and use that instead of a debit card. Not only do you have a longer period of time to catch any suspicious activity, but you’re also going to deal with a lot less hassle if you have to close an account and open another. Moving bank accounts is a lot more frustrating and time consuming, even if you don’t end up having to pay for fraudulent charges and bank fees. You will have to budget it like you would if the money were coming out of your checking account, but it only takes a little bit of time. (I use YNAB software for mine, though you can do this in a spreadsheet.) Otherwise, you’ll end up risking a lot of debt, but if you do this right, you can end up earning free money for things like travel and shopping, just by purchasing things like groceries and gas that you’d have purchased anyway.
There are of course other ways to protect yourself. Don’t use a machine if it looks like it’s been tampered with. Try not to let your card out of your sight. Avoid purchasing from questionable sites. (More on that in another post.) Don’t respond to emails asking for personal information, even if they include links to what looks like a legitimate site that asks you to log in. Open a new browser window and type in the website address yourself. Don’t give out personal information over the phone to anyone claiming to be from your bank. Hang up and dial the number on the back of your card to be sure.
But of course… All of these can turn out to not be enough, and even the most diligent person can still have their information stolen. So that’s why I absolutely recommend the credit card as an ultimate security measure to protect yourself. Should all else fail, it really is as easy as reporting your card stolen and getting a new one.
My last piece of advice is to avoid ATMs if you need cash. Asking for cash back at a register is a little safer, as you’re less likely to run into a skimmer at a machine that’s inside and being supervised by an employee. The best option is to simply go to the bank and go inside to withdraw cash if you need it, but if that’s not an option, the register option is probably the next best method followed by a machine located indoors with a security camera, though I’m personally wary of even those. Of course, you’re never 100% safe, as any company (even your bank) could be targeted by hackers. (See also, Target.) I have heard of some people keeping a separate account with about $200 specifically for when they need cash. That way, if hackers get their info and clear out that bank account, they’ve not wiped out everything, and you might still have time to recover and get your money back. It’s definitely something to consider.