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New 'card cracking' scam gets students' debit card numbers and PINs: Plain Dealing

As posted on December 17, 2013 on blog.cleveland.com

By Sheryl Harris

College students should beware of a new scam known as “card cracking” that could trap them in unexpected debt.

In the scam, someone contacts a student via Facebook, YouTube or other social media and sets up a deal: Let me use your debit account to process a check and I’ll give you half the money I deposit.

The victim sees a huge deposit in his or her account, followed swiftly by the withdrawal of “half” the money.

Although anyone with a debit account could be scammed, news reports indicate the spreading scam seems to be aimed at students.

This is the ol’ fake checks scam revamped to pull in fresh, young victims.

We all know how it ends: When the deposit turns out to have been made through a counterfeit check, the deposit evaporates and the victim is on the hook for any money withdrawn from the account.

But there’s a scarier twist: In so-called “card cracking” scams, the bad guys convince victims to share their account numbers and PIN numbers with the scammer.

So instead of just duping people into depositing the fake checks into their accounts and wiring or sending cash to the scammers, which is bad enough, victims are giving scammers direct access to their bank accounts.

That’s a huge risk – especially for students, who may have large amounts going through their accounts from loans, scholarships and tuition reimbursements.

Plus, if you give someone your account number and PIN, it’s very difficult to claim that withdrawals were the result of unauthorized access – even if the scammer used the debit card to make additional purchases that the victim never agreed to.

The scheme came to light when U.S. postal inspectors in responding to a complaint from a Chicago resident conducted an undercover sting. Criminal charges are pending.

Victims in that scam responded to Facebook posts that said people with Fifth Third Bank accounts could make extra money. Victims apparently met with a scammer in person to hand over their ATM information and PINs.

Not only did this particular scheme target people with accounts at an Ohio-based bank, according to the indictment, all the checks deposited were counterfeits of Ohio-based companies.

The scam is widespread enough that the Chicago Sun-Times found a rap song about it.

In a variant of the scam spotted in Georgia, the scammer lurked in nightclubs frequented by college students and paid victims outright for their debit card numbers and PINs. The victims were told they could later report the cards and PINs stolen.

In the meantime, students should:

  • Never allow strangers to access their bank accounts for any reason.
  • Remember that debit cards and campus IDs that double as ATM cards – and the PINS that unlock them -- are top-secret private information.
  • Use hard-to-guess PINs on all accounts linked to financial information and do not autofill passwords on mobile devices or computers.
  • Report lost, stolen or compromised debit or campus ID cards to banks and police immediately.