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Debit Card Safety

January 23, 2008

By: Jim Oosterman
Melrose Bank

Automatic teller machines allow users to access cash within seconds at any time of day or night – around the corner and around the world. But with convenience comes cause for caution. The summer travel season is nearly upon us, when credit and debit cards might be used daily during a vacation, so it’s a good time to review some safety advice everyone should use all year long.

ATM manufacturers and banks work hard to prevent robberies and fraud at their machines. They place ATMs in safe locations, light them well, trim landscape to prevent criminals from hiding, and use a variety of security measures. Many banks also limit the amount of cash that can be withdrawn each day so that a thief can’t quickly clean out an account. Even so, not all ATM crimes can be prevented.

Protect your ATM card
Always know where your card is, and keep it secure. When you go out shopping or to a restaurant, carry only the debit or credit card you think you’ll need. The fewer cards you carry, the less likely they’ll be lost or stolen and used in a fraud attempt.

When debit cards expire or you change banks and get a new one, destroy the old cards. Be sure to cut through the account number and magnetic strip before disposing of a card.

Safeguard your personal identification number
Personal identification numbers are the magic codes to gaining access to a bank account through a debit card. When choosing one, never use your name or any other word or number that can be determined from items in your wallet or purse.

It’s a good idea to memorize your PIN so that you never have to write it down on your card or anywhere else. Also, don’t share your PIN with anyone who isn’t a co-owner of your account.

Never give any information about your debit card or PIN over the telephone. For example, if you receive a call, supposedly from your bank, wanting to verify your PIN, do not provide that information.

Using an ATM
You don’t want to give a would-be robber time to target you to steal your money, wallet or purse, so it’s important to move quickly and make your ATM transaction fast.
As you walk up to an ATM, have your card in your hand, ready to insert into the machine – don’t wait until you get to the ATM before you take it out of your wallet or purse. When punching in your PIN, shield the keypad with your hand or body so no one else around you can see the numbers.

It’s natural to want to immediately count the cash you receive from the ATM to make sure it’s all there, but resist the temptation. Displaying your money and slowing down to count it at the ATM could be a good time for a robber to make his move. Put the cash in your pocket or purse and count it later in a more secure location.

Drive-up ATMs can be the safest to use, especially in an unfamiliar area. When you drive up to an ATM, make sure the passenger windows are rolled up and all the car doors are locked.

Other precautions to consider
Using an ATM at night requires even more attention to surroundings:

  • Park close to the ATM in a well-lighted area.
  • If possible, take another person with you.
  • If the lights at the ATM are not working, don’t use it.
  • If shrubbery has overgrown or a tree blocks the view, select another ATM.

Some ATMs belong to non-banking companies or even individuals, not to banks or other financial institutions. While a privately owned ATM may be safe to use, there is more uncertainty about whether these machine owners are legitimate or whether they’re regulated by the government on an ongoing basis. In general, especially when traveling, it’s safest to use an ATM owned by a federally insured banking institution.

These recommendations are a start, but the best safety advice is simply to use common sense. Do not use an ATM if you feel at all uncomfortable doing so. ATMs provide convenience, but they haven’t replaced the bank teller. If you prefer, conduct your business in the bank lobby.

James Oosterman is the Vice President of Melrose Bank. He can be reached by telephone 781-665-2500, online at melrosebank.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/MelroseBank.


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