Identity theft can happen to you

It will never happen to me.

I say these famous last words, “It will never happen to me,” as my husband and I come home from vacation and discover we were the victims of identity theft while using our bank debit card.

We were traveling to South Dakota when it happened. We didn’t know that it had happened for almost two weeks when we returned home. I sat down with my computer and accessed our online account to balance and to check off what charges had gone through our account during vacation, when I noticed a charge to a store in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I continued to look at other charges and noticed charges to the same store in Denison, West Des Moines, Oskaloosa, Grinnell, Newton, Iowa City, Waterloo and so on. There were actually 19 different charges starting in Nebraska all the way through Iowa and ending up in Illinois.

After figuring out someone had gotten our debit card information, I instantly felt sick. I discovered this at 5:30 a.m., and of course was not able to call our bank at that time. I did call the 800 number on the back of the card to cancel it so no more charges would go through.

I waited until the bank opened to call and report the charges. We are fortunate that the bank credited our account back.

I still couldn’t help to think what would happen if we had been stranded somewhere in South Dakota on vacation, and where, or how, did they get our card information? We still do not have the answer to how this happened, but I have a good idea.

We stopped at a gas station just West of Des Moines. My husband went to put his card in the pump to begin to fuel and his card was declined. I told him to try again. Once again the card was declined. I went into the store to tell them we were having issues at the pump and so the clerk went out to check it. He couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. So they went ahead and started the pump from inside the store.

We stopped later that evening to get gas again, but my husband’s card worked this time without a problem. I believe the first gas station had a card skimmer and that is how our information was taken.

If you don’t think identity theft can’t happen to you. it can.

Here are a few tips that I discovered after this incident from To detect and avoid having your credit card skimmed at the ATM or gas pump:

1. Inspect the card reader and the area near the PIN pad

2. Look at other nearby gas pumps or ATM card readers to see if they match the one you are using.

3. Trust your instincts. If in doubt, use another pump or ATM somewhere else.

4. Avoid using your PIN number at the gas pump.

5. Keep an eye on your accounts

I know that I will be more cautious when using my debit card, no matter where I am, I will check my online account more often to make sure that I catch it sooner rather than later.

— Becky Maxwell is the publisher of the Knoxville Journal-Express, the Pella Chronicle and the Centerville Daily Iowegian. She is heavily involved in the Iowa Newspaper Association and also works in advertising for all three newspapers. Contact her at the Knoxville office at 641-842-2155. 

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