The debit card nightmare: A number is stolen and charges pile up

I could hear the panic in her voice, this pastor, who never fears anything.

She had simply wanted a free sample of face cream and agreed to pay the shipping cost — $5.99.

But the day after she used her debit card to place the order, the online company put through two different and unauthorized charges, one for $92.92 and another for $89.95.

The pastor, who is also my godmother, is a senior who lives on a fixed income. She can’t afford to be victimized. The fraudulent fees made her account overdrawn, which resulted in a $39 penalty from her financial institution.

I couldn’t believe this all happened just a week after I wrote about the recent increase in debit-card fraud. From 2015 to 2016, the number of debit cards compromised at ATMs and merchants nationwide jumped 70 percent, according to FICO Card Alert Service.

Although my godmother’s theft wasn’t at an ATM, it was yet another reminder of how vulnerable consumers are when using a debit card connected to a bank account holding their household money.

“I feel so stupid,” she said after calling me for help.

She shouldn’t feel stupid. She was the victim. And companies like the crooked one she trusted often prey on seniors in particular.

A number of readers contacted me after the debit-card column. Many passed on the security measures they use to safeguard their bank accounts.

“A customer service representative at my bank recommended opening a second checking account just for my debit card,” wrote Jo Sullivan from Lynn, Mass. “I keep a few hundred dollars in that account. I replenish as needed, from my regular checking account.”

I love this tip. The point is the crook can get away with only a limited amount of money. Make sure your main account isn’t linked to the separate debit card.

Keep in mind that with a debit card there is not much of a delay from…

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