Swiper, no swiping

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credit cards

I was in the shower when Mr. Wonderful stood outside the bathroom door and shouted, “Did you just buy gas at a Chevron?”

What? Just now? No. I’m standing in the shower. My hair is soapy. This old house is quirky, but I am fairly certain there are no gas pumping opportunities in our master bath.

Mr. Wonderful said that our bank had just sent a text asking if he had purchased $100 worth of gas at a Chevron station in Missouri. He felt certain he had not. Having confirmed that I also was not at a gas station in Missouri, he immediately telephoned the bank.

We were informed that Mr. Wonderful’s bank card was most likely skimmed. Credit card skimming is a type of theft where thieves use a small device to steal credit card information in an otherwise legitimate credit or debit card transaction.

Fraud

Our bank’s Fraud Department said most sites — often gas stations or ATMs — don’t even realize they were targeted. The skimmer is installed and removed before the business is any wiser. The criminals wait weeks or even months to use the numbers they stole. Duplicate cards are sold for pennies on the dollar to be used by fellow thieves in making purchases they know are illegal.

Think this is a smart crime? Think again. There are YouTube videos instructing viewers on how to make their own skimmer. Note: I am not suggesting you bone up on the process.

There is no shortage of thieves. We don’t need to make more.

The caper

In our case the whole caper (I love the term. I picture a cartoon cat burglar), was textbook. The skimmed (stolen) information was used to create a new card. That card was then used at a vending machine for $1.50. That was a test to ensure the card actually worked. The same card was then used immediately to pump $100 worth of gas.

Within minutes the bank was on the case and shutting down the card. The gas was already pumped and the card user was long gone. As a bonus hassle, I had just changed most of our automatic and online payments to the now hacked card, after my previous card was compromised earlier this year.

In that situation, the bank alerted me to charges at a New York City Macy’s. I was downright offended. As if I would ever pay full retail at a high-end department store!

Had the thieves been wise enough to use my card number at a thrift store, the bank may never have realized the heist.

Legit

The bank also shut down my card once after we paid for a zipline adventure while on vacation out of town. That expenditure was actually legit. Knowing my sloth-like history, however, I cannot fault the bank for assuming that any outdoorsy lifestyle purchases meant I had obviously been hacked.

I’m hurt they didn’t call 9-1-1 for fear I’d been taken hostage by someone who was going to make me partake in sports.

Avoid

The bank gave us some stellar advice on how to avoid skimming in the future. They suggested we pay for gasoline and similar purchases in cash. Short of returning to the 1970s, I don’t see that catching on.

I would rather be hacked daily than go inside a gas station to pay cash. The few times I have I inevitably wait behind someone working on revealing a dozen scratch-off tickets while trying to parlay their winnings into a mega Mountain Dew and cigarettes.

I did ask where we should get cash. They have downsized so efficiently that they have all but taken away all the bank tellers. I’m told the ATMs are not safe either?

How come it seems that when we use our card for legitimate purposes I am asked to swipe, insert the chip, enter my zip code, show identification, summon a demon, sacrifice a rubber chicken and sign the receipt in blood?

The bonus round may be, what is my mother’s maiden name, and who sat behind her in second grade? Meanwhile, some hacker rolls up with our card 564 miles away from where we reside and they fill ‘er up without blinking an eye.

I’m a fully digital girl living in the modern world, but I have to say that keeping all our cash in a box under the mattress isn’t sounding like such a bad idea. As long as I don’t have to buy gas.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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