We were going to the pumpkin patch that Sunday, something my young sons had been excited about all week. I checked my bank balance as we were leaving to budget for the day. To my surprise, I only had $19.31. Digging further revealed three recent ATM withdrawals that I hadn’t made, and that had emptied my account.
I was shocked. How could this have happened? I still had my ATM card in my purse. Thankfully, I knew what to do.
Here’s what to do if it happens to you:
Call your bank
As soon as you suspect your account has been compromised you must contact your bank. Alert them to the attempted fraud and have the bank block all electronic access to your account. Put a block on any debit or credit cards tied to that account. It may seem like a hassle, but it is the only way to ensure that the fraud stops. You can always access your money in person by going to a local bank branch.
The longer a thief has access to your credit or debit card, the more damage he can do to your finances. If your budget is as tight as mine, every penny counts. I needed the fraudulent transactions reversed immediately.
While speaking with a bank representative it is imperative that you gather all the information you can about exactly when and how your account was hacked. Review recent transactions to make sure all your funds are accounted for. In my case, all the transactions happened at a local gas station with a portable ATM kiosk.
Validate the contact information your bank has on file to make sure it is still correct. Ask the customer service agent to verify your home address, telephone numbers, email address, and authorized users, and any other information they may have regarding your accounts. My information was still intact, but a few years ago my parents suffered nearly $60,000 in fraudulent wire transfers because a thief had added counterfeit contact information to their home equity line of credit.
Call the police
The next phone call is to the local police. Include as much information as you can about how, when, and where the theft occurred. The sooner it is reported, the more likely that the criminals can be tracked down and arrested.
File a report even if the fraud was only for a few dollars. The small amount may have been precursor to a larger and more costly attack. Your bank may also require it to refund fraudulent withdrawals.
Check your other accounts
Unless you can pinpoint exactly how and where your financial information was stolen you must assume that your other accounts are also at risk. Make a phone call or go online to review the recent transactions on all of your bank and credit card accounts. If you do find other attempts at fraud, block electronic access to those accounts and add the new information to your existing police report.
Prevent future fraud
There is no guarantee that your financial information will never be hacked again. But there are things you can do to limit your risks. Before it happened to me I rarely carried cash and paid with plastic for nearly everything.
Now I use cash as often as possible. I am much more discriminating about where I use a credit card-no gas stations, no fast food restaurants, and no small businesses. I also make sure to cover the key pad when asked to enter my PIN, zip code, or sign electronically. You may want to consider doing the same.