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Sigh....debit card hacked

This is just a cautionary post....I hope someone else avoids this misery from reading my post.

We had a fantastic 3 wks in Italy-first timers, recently retired, 40th anniversary trip. We took 2 Credit cards and 2 debit cards. Our local CU charges ATM fees, so we opened an account with a widely used and reputable online bank for the sole purpose of accessing cash while in Italy. We used the card a total of 6 times at bank owned ATMs in Italy. All went well-we were very selective and protective when we used the ATMs.....arrived home and had to travel for family issues. We sat down on Saturday, less than 3 weeks after our return from Italy, to review our trip spending to compare it to the budget we set, and to transfer the leftover funds out of the debit card account and back into our credit union account.

You guessed it-the debit card account had been cleaned out, down to $10. There were 3 withdrawals made, from ATMs here in the US, the week after we returned. They were made at a bank and a convenience store a few states away from where we live. We immed reported it to our account holder, and are awaiting a call from their fraud's a banking holiday today. The local sheriff was just here, and we filed a report, but he said there is basically nothing they can do, which we understand.
We both have our cards, so it was not stolen, and we assume they needed our pin to withdraw from ATMs? Not sure how someone was able to get that other than skimming a machine that we used.
Not sure what we could have done differently, other than transfer our leftover funds immediately. Thankfully, it was not a huge amount of money, but let's say it was enough to make ya sick to your stomach!!! Sigh.
We read through the fraud policies of the online bank, and it appears we may be able to have the funds returned to us, but it makes me so angry that any of this has to be dealt with.

So just be careful.

Posted by
985 posts

jill - I'm so sorry to read this and I would think the missing funds would be covered by the bank. It may just take them a little time to do it compared to removing credit card charges. I despise thieves.

Posted by
2651 posts

I'm glad you were only using a card with limited funds tied to it for the trip. Although it is not the common advice on this website, I do not EVER take a debit card with me when I travel...people here do and I think they mostly travel problem-free, but I just don't do it. Even though there usually is fraud protection with a credit card, I don't want to find myself in the situation of having to get back what is already gone - I prefer disputing a charge on a credit card that I don't have to pay unless the dispute is somehow resolved against me.

You're never completely safe in this world but my personal rule is that I don't do ATM withdrawals anywhere or abroad. I don't even use a debit card anymore. I take cash with me for what I need and use credit cards for the rest.

Posted by
27447 posts

Since you only used the card overseas, it appears that the problem was there, unless there has been a breach at the online bank itself. I guess one of the ATMs had some sort of skimming device, but it is a bit odd that the unauthorized withdrawals took place in the US. I'm certainly sorry it happened; it must feel really terrible to know that someone was able to drain all the funds from your account. Somehow, that seems more of a personal violation than mis-use of a credit card.

I've never had an ATM-card issue anywhere. Where credit cards are concerned, I've never had one misused following a trip to Europe (and I've spent in aggregate over a year there since I started using credit cards), but it has happened many times in the US, often after a domestic trip.

Posted by
9109 posts

it is a bit odd that the unauthorized withdrawals took place in the

Not that odd. Most likely scenario is the card was copied by a skimming device in Europe. The details were quickly sold over the "darkweb" via auction. Another card was then cloned in the US allowing the withdrawals on this side of the pond. The move to convert to chip cards in the US should make the practice obsolete in a couple years.

Posted by
4482 posts

I have heard of someone whose card was compromised at a gas station in Birmingham-he had not been out of the state, let alone out of the country!

Posted by
2716 posts

Sorry you are going through this. But, you saved some ATM fees by foregoing your local CU, opening an account with an online bank and you "may" get the money back. Was it worth saving those piddling amounts? I think the lesson is with banking, as so much else, there is a relationship value. Our bank is large, national, and we do all our banking with them-personal, business when I had one, mortgage, etc. We have a seperate checking account with debit cards just for travel. If anything such as this happened I'd call my banker and the funds would be in my account the next day. That is worth the ATM fees and more.

Posted by
33339 posts

Did you perhaps briefly visit an ATM at home when you first got the card, perhaps to check the PIN or check the balance?

Posted by
1062 posts

To avoid a major loss, Wells Fargo offered us two travel ATM cards. They set up a separate account where we could deposit just the amount of money we needed for our trip. It was not linked to our regular account and there was no cost nor any minimum amount that had to be deposited. If we needed more money in it, we could do it on line. At least that way, anyone who scammed the card would not be able to get at more of our money.

Posted by
142 posts

Thank you for the supportive comments.

We obtained the card last February, deposited a small amount, and did a "trial" transaction to be sure the card worked with a different bank's ATM. The card was not used again until we were in Italy.

I am not sure using our local bank would have made a difference....because the fraudulent activity took place in the states, it may not have triggered any fraud alarms-especially since we had already returned from Italy.

Yes, I feel personally violated and angry that someone thinks it's ok to take what isn't theirs. Karma is a b#*+ch and I hope it catches up to her/ him.

Now to finish putting together my Shutterfly photo book so we have only great memories of this wonderful trip!

Posted by
1294 posts

I hope you reported it to the bank immediately. I have had this happen and you do have some protections against loss:

scroll down to lost or stolen debit cards. I know when it happened to me, I was told the clock started ticking when I realized the problem (either by getting a statement from my bank or checking online) My bank made it sound like "they would try to get my money back ($500). I told them I knew I could be held responsible for $50, but I expected to have the rest of my money returned to me. In the end, they did not even charge me the $50.

In my case, there was no money in the checking account. I had transferred all the money out. However, I had other accounts at that Credit Union and when the charges came in, they transferred money into the account. Of course, they charged me a transfer fee, which I told them they would also return to me (and they did, but I had to call back and insist on that).

If you discovered this on Saturday, tomorrow will be the second business day you can report it. Report it if you have not already done so.

Posted by
1625 posts

So sorry this happened to you. You are the victim of a crime and there are regulations in place that protect you, it will just take time till your case is fully resolved, until then they should be issuing you provisional credit.

Just in general:
The thing with opening a new account at a new bank for just travel is that they don't know you. There is no history to know what is normal for you and what is not., and that does not allow the system alerts to work. You open a new account, then let it sit dormant, then when you do perform transactions they are in a foreign country and now your claiming fraudulent transactions. I work at a bank and this would send up so many red flags. If this happened at your normal banking institution they DO have a better chance of catching it because it falls way outside of your normal habits. Your normal bank may not have been able to catch the first one but they could have put a soft hot card on your card to prevent further activity until you called to confirm activity.

My bank charges me fees ($2.50?) which I just count as part of the trip cost. I really don't care about the $10.00 I might get charged in relation to the amount I spent on the trip. I have been with my bank for over 30 years, they know me and my fraud claim activity (none). My bank actually hot carded my ATM card on the last trip due to activity outside of my normal pattern.

Posted by
792 posts

So sorry that this happened to you Jill! I hope the fantastic memories from your trip are what stay with you.

This sort of thing can also happen in the states- it happened to my mom with her chase debit and me with my citibank credit card. Both were situations where a fake card had been made and was being used somewhere we weren't. In both instances, we were notified within the hour of the suspicious purchases and the money was immediately returned to the account. So I have some ATM fees with my debit, and an annual charge with my credit card (but no foreign transaction fees) but have been very happy with fraud protection. So I feel very comfortable taking both cards with me abroad.

Posted by
7209 posts

Been traveling to Europe for 15+ years sometimes multiple trips per years always using ATM/Debit cards to withdraw money and have never been hacked...not even once.

Posted by
2349 posts

Jill, can you tell us if it was a swipe card or a chip card?

Posted by
2127 posts

So very sorry this happened to you and that you are having to deal with it.

You are kind to share your experience with Forum readers. It serves as a wise warning. Several posters over the years have come across as though anyone who does not simply use a debit card at an ATM for cash in Europe is an idiot......not so!!

Cash (obtained before travel) deeply stored in a money belt and then using only credit cards is our MO. Only in a very serious emergency would we consider using an ATM while traveling. Yes, we have missed the opportunity to purchase a scarf in Croatia when the merchant would only accept local cash (which we did not have as it was a ship trip and we had only euros) and no credit cards, but so be it.

Posted by
3521 posts

Unfortunately, having a chip card would NOT prevent this.

All cards, chip or not, issued in the US still have a magnetic stripe on them. Not every ATM has a chip reader. So the combination of a chip card with a non chip ATM does nothing to protect you since the chip is ignored and the mag stripe is used. Until cards are issued only with a chip, no mag stripe, and all ATMs take only chip cards this will not change. It will be years (decades) before that happens.

As to how the PIN was found out, it is very simple for the crook who places the card skimmer on an ATM to also place a small camera near the ATM that can see the keypad and then it is a simple process to sync up the video with the card info captured.

I have been going to Europe for more than 10 years. I have never had any credit or debit card compromised while there. But I only use the Debit cards in bank owned ATMs and only use the credit cards for hotels and other travel expenses. I have had multiple cards compromised in the US (The cards that were compromised were never used outside the US so I know they were not compromised in my travels) . It is an unfortunate fact of life.

Posted by
2651 posts

For my particular travel style, I have paid most of my lodging in full before I leave home. I am a fan of city passes for activities or pre-timed/pre/purchased entries to sites. I've pre-bought my internal trains and flights. So the vast majority of the stuff is already paid for. I've done an assessment of cash I'll need and just done an exchange through my Wells Fargo account. Sure I can get a bit better exchange if I take my ATM card and withdraw cash over in Europe but I choose not to. For me, I like to arrive for my travels with everything in place and set up.

It's the same reason why, despite all the talk about buying SIM cards etc when you arrive in a country, I never mess around with that. I like my TMobile phone to turn on and operate when I land and I like to have my finances set up when I land. I don't want to spend my vacation trying to fix technology issues or trying to figure out a good exchange rate, trolling around at various ATMs to check transaction fees or exchange rates, trying to figure out why my card won't work etc.

I realize that many on this site choose differently, but this is the method that works for me. So I don't typically have a lot of cash, but I just bring it with me.

Posted by
1625 posts

I agree with a PP who stated this has nothing to do with travel aboard using an ATM card. This happens ALL THE TIME in the US. Peoples cards are compromised and used fraudulently. There are laws in place to protect the victim and ALL banks must abide by them, even the online ones. I work in the Fraud group of a bank and I see this everyday, and it still does not deter me, I use my ATM card freely in the US and in Europe. Crooks are gonna be crooks. I am vigilant about the ATM I use, it must be an actual bank ATM., which may mean going inside the bank or it is attached to a bank. I look for skimmers or anything that looks out of place. Other than that I just go about my business and I have never been compromised, not because I am special or super vigilant.....I just have not hit a skimmer yet.

Posted by
14580 posts


This is just bad news...very sorry this happened to you. In this regard I know I have been very fortunate in not having experienced this sort of thing after 22 trips in 45 years. It reminds me of the commercial you hear at Bank of America while standing in line for the next available teller that goes "you're on vacation in Florida, then discover that your card was used in Ohio."

I don't bring a debit card to Europe either, never have.

Posted by
142 posts

UPDATE: All funds have been replaced by the bank. Fraud Protection rep was VERY helpful and considerate. Restores my faith in humanity. But I am still very angry that someone felt it was perfectly ok to take our money.

In the future, we will only visit ATM's that are INSIDE banks during business hours when traveling.

Safe travels!

Posted by
8653 posts

I had this happen to me once while visiting Victoria BC. It could have happened anywhere. The bogus withdrawals were then made in New York City. My bank (Charles Schwab, and yes I do bank online!) caught it and contacted me immediately. They shut down my card until they could talk to me, immediately put a new one in the mail and my funds were restored within 24 hours.

There is a huge sense of personal outrage that someone thinks that they can just take your money like that. I did appreciate the way that Charles Schwab was looking out for its customers and I was made whole quickly. I have since taken some time to watch several videos about how to look for skimmers on ATM machines.

Posted by
7576 posts

None of us, including the OP, really have enough information. It's just as likely that the OP "clicked" on a phishing email of some kind and got their computer infected, which delivered some information when they logged into the online account. All of the other possibilities mentioned are reasonable, too.

Unfortunately, it's not always convenient to restrict yourself to ATMs inside banking facilities. Some towns don't have enough ATMs, or enough on networks that you won't pay a fee for. You can look for skimmers, and you can cover your hand when you type in the PIN. But you can't eliminate all risk. (Indeed, when you pay a restaurant bill with a credit card abroad, the machine is usually brought to your table, while in the "safe" (Ironica typeface) U.S., they take the card out of your sight.

Posted by
77 posts

I do take a chip debit card, but use it sparingly. I also take a credit card and large denomination USD and foreign currency. Pay for hotels etc with credit card, hotels can sometimes change $$ into moderate size bills, or go to a bank. Carry this $$ in my 'bra' wallet (yes bra!!) - available on Amazon - Travelsmith ??

Irony is that I used a particular credit card ONE TIME in the USA last year for a car rental while my car was in the shop, and someone in EUROPE tried to use it for a large purchase (that was the first and only time I used that card) - it can happen anywhere, with any type of card.

On another occasion, Based on the help I got from my bank when my local debit card was used here where I live (it was cloned), I don't have qualms about it. I have always been reimbursed by the bank. For my next trip I'm thinking about a separate account that is not linked to my other checking/savings, so any immediate loss would be limited , and I would still have working cash in my other accounts if needed, although the bank usually gives you the benefit of the doubt and provisionally reimburses your account. Good luck all.

Posted by
1825 posts

This is a non-travel related story. My wife and I have each had our Amex and Wells fargo cards hacked and used at gas stations and attempted at ATM's. We were always issued new cards immediately and had funds returned. I also have an online bank for foreign travel.

Posted by
8661 posts

We were told that thieves commonly test their hacked debit card info at gas stations because many let you make purchases on debit card as credit, not requiring a PIN. It was our history of never using my debit card for credit purchases that convinced our bank they were fraudulent.

Posted by
1 posts

Just returned from a wonderful trip to Scotland. Checked my bank account and found that my debit card PIN had been hacked. I had withdrawn money from cash machines on 4 different days. I did not use my debit card for anything else. Only cash and a credit card from a another bank. The thief racked up $1400+ of transactions. My bank did put fraud alert hold on it but I called and chewed them out because I had told them that I was traveling before I left. They put the hold on it because there were transactions from the UK. They released the hold and I went on my merry way. I learned a hard lesson. 1) Read Rick's advice on this matter before leaving (although this was not my first trip) 2) Listen to your bank 3) Check your balances often! The bank will make good on the loss. They told me to file a police report which I did. The police said they don't do anything because it such a rampant crime everywhere. It is all just bureaucratic red tape to prove to the bank that you are serious and not making the whole thing up. The police also told me that sometimes the vendor may try to hold you accountable for the money. If only I checked my balance because ALL the transactions occurred in Edinburgh over the course of 10 days and we were only there for the first 3 days of our 10 day trip. The other thing is that my travel companion withdrew money the same time as I did using his own card. He was not hacked.