I Had My Identity Stolen and My Bank Account Drained. Here’s How I Got My Money Back.
Like most people, my life has had all sorts of ups and downs. When I was a young adult, I made some poor choices with money and ended up with a lot of credit card debt. Over time, I paid it all down to zero and had actually started to save a little money. Imagine my shock when one day, I found it was gone!
After years of paying off credit cards, I was finally able to save a small amount of money — $2400, to be exact. It doesn’t seem like a ton now, but back then it was a lot to me. I finally felt comfortable enough in my finances to take a small road trip from North Carolina to visit a friend in Florida. The morning after I got back, I woke up, checked my bank account, and saw the balance was exactly $0.00.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! What had happened? Upon looking at my checking account detail, I found 48 charges of $50 from iTunes. Someone had stolen all of my money!
At this point, I phoned the bank, in a terrible panic. Could they help me? WOULD they help me? Upon explaining the situation to the customer service person, she told me to calm down, and that they’d investigate. The conversation went like this:
CS (Customer Service): It looks here like you bought $2,400 in iTunes.
Me: I absolutely did not. In fact, I was on a road trip to Florida and back. If you look at my account history, I have never used iTunes, and probably never will. I certainly didn’t buy $2,400 in songs.
CS (lots of typing): Okay, it looks here like the charges originated from Bangladesh. Are you telling me you weren’t in Bangladesh yesterday, like for business or something?
Me: No, absolutely not. I have never been to Bangladesh.
CS: What about for a vacation? Did you vacation in Bangladesh?
Me: I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO BANGLADESH. EVER. NEVER, EVER, EVER. I WAS IN FLORIDA, NOT BANGLADESH.
CS: Did you use your debit card on your Florida trip?
CS: Did you use an ATM or buy gas with the debit card?
Me: I bought all of my gas with debit card, pay-at-the-pump.
CS (after much holding and typing): Okay, what we believe happened was that you ran your card through a skimmer.
Me: What’s a “skimmer?”
The customer service person then explained to me that a skimmer was a special fake credit/debit card slot that thieves fitted over existing card slots at ATMs and gas stations. When you run your card through the reader, you’re also running the card through the skimmer, which reads the magnetic strip on your card and collects the information on it. Apparently, a good skimmer looks like it’s part of the machine.
The good news is that all banks, credit unions, debit cards, and credit cards in the United States are insured by the U.S. government. If fraud can be proven, the government will return the money to the bank, and then the bank will return your money to you.
All I had to do was convince my bank that I didn’t buy $2,400 in iTunes from Bangladesh yesterday. In fact, the money was back in my bank account just five hours after I called my credit union! What a relief!
What’s the moral of this story? I suppose it’s that spending digitally is safer than cash. If a man walked up to me with a gun and demanded all of my cash, there would be no federal government to return my money. My money would just be gone. However, if you spend with a credit or debit card, you’re safe. If you find you had an identify theft event, don’t panic.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on those card readers for anything that looks suspicious.