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Is Your Money Safe?

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Tanaya Singh:

1970’s — INDIA:-

Businessman —“I want to file a report against a thief who snatched away my briefcase full of money while I was driving towards the market to shop for my daughter’s wedding.”

Inspector — “Well, I don’t think this will be of much help sir. Theft of this nature is the most ubiquitous crimes today. Criminals are so large in number and evenly distributed in the entire locality to such a great extent that recovering lost money is almost impossible. You can file a report though; we’ll see how we can help you out. ”

There was a time a few years back, when this scenario was the most commonplace in almost all parts of the world. Carrying large sums of money was extremely dangerous and many a time the money turned out to be an invitation to robbers moving around, ready to kill for cash.

With the view of completely removing this danger which was constantly haunting people around the world, the tech savvies in America came up with the concept of plastic money. Plastic money is available in many forms, the two most widely used, being the credit card and the ATM card. The first credit card was introduced in around 1950’s in America, and later in 1980’s it came up to India and many other countries. But now, again after a few years of usage, we have reached a stage where our money is no longer safe. These cards have become open to inevitable fraudulent practices. After all those eras of traditional pick pocketing and bank robberies, the money thirsty thieves have come up with the most dreaded  ideas of all times –“CARD FRAUD”.

“CARD FRAUD”- the term itself resembles a kind of catastrophic nightmare for all plastic money owners. Be it a credit card or an ATM card, each of us, at some time or the other, face the irrefutable fear that our card may be in the wrong hands.
So….for all those who are unaware of the details of this very ubiquitous crime spreading like a pestilence these days, you’ve got something for your help here. So sit tight, and get ready for a vibrant ride into the world of fraud.

“Card fraud is a phrase used for theft committed using a credit card or any other payment mechanism. The purpose behind such frauds is to procure goods without making any payment or to get hold on unauthorized funds from an account.”
Ways and means leading to a successful card fraud are numerous and the thieves are always opulent with ideas coming up every new day, to accomplish their task.

Lost and stolen card fraud is one of these methods. In this kind of fraud, the card is physically stolen from the customer and then used by the criminal, masquerading as the owner, to obtain goods and services. In such situations the thief remains powerful enough to use the card till the bank gets sufficient information about the theft. The only security measure on all cards is the holder’s signature, which can be easily forged. A common precaution against this kind of fraud is to ask for some identity proof from the holder, but if the thief acquires the person’s wallet, even this measure goes in vain.

This was just about the simple pick pocketing theft. Moving on to the larger arena of this business let me ask you a question. How many of you have felt cold sweat trickling down your spine, when there is a knock at your door and you receive heavy shopping bills of commodities that you have not purchased even in the smallest figment of your most surreal dreams? Well, I know there are thousands in this crowd out there. This kind of card fraud is known as skimming. The process involves a skimmed or a cloned card, which is a type of card that has been printed, embossed or encoded without any prior permission from any credit card company. It deals with skimming, a process wherein the original data on a cards magnetic strip is copied onto another card, without the holder’s knowledge. Common places where skimming takes place are bars, restaurants and petrol pumps. You go to such places, hand over your card and it is surreptitiously passed through a machine which electronically copies the data on the magnetic strip. A skimmer is a pocket sized device with a scanning slot which looks like a pager and can even be worn on a belt. Skimming can also be done with ATM cards. Sometimes a tiny camera is placed somewhere in the ATM so that it can record your PIN number while you punch it on the machine. Thus, the thieves get everything they need to devour every single penny from your account, within minutes. This is the most common type of card fraud because both the skimming device as well as the camera are highly unobtrusive and are almost invisible to the untrained eye.

The next kind of fraud is one in which all your card details are obtained by criminals from discarded receipts, or when you are happily punching in the information during an online transaction. This is known as “Card not present”(CNP) fraud, and is conducted over Internet, phone or mail transactions. It means that the card is not physically present with the dealers, so they have to rely on information obtained by indirect means. Thus without any signature or PIN it is practically impossible for them to know whether the purchase is authorized by the actual card holder or not. As a result the genuine card holders find themselves in a helpless situation when they receive irredeemable bills of unknown purchases.

Apart from skimming devices, bandit ATMs are also on the criminals’ hotlist. Detecting a skimming device may be difficult, but tracking a bandit ATM is next to impossible. Such machines are those which have been purchased and installed by scam artists to accomplish their murky task without any hurdles. The only possible way to avoid such scams is to eschew away from using independent ATMs.

These were some of the most widely used card fraud mechanisms. I know all of you are in a tizzy because maybe till now you were oblivious to the fact that the fraud world had numerous cheating techniques to sweep you of your feet. Well, there’s nothing to worry much about, because just as every virus has an anti-virus, similarly, every theft has prevention. Here are some of them –

The Card Security Code (CSC) is a preventive measure against card-not-present fraud. This very useful system, allows the dealers to verify your billing address and to cross check a special security code present on your card to confirm that the transactions are being made with the genuine owner. Retailers are also encouraged to use various CNP fraud prevention tools.

Many intelligent fraud detection computer systems have come up and are being used by banks to track customer accounts for unusual spending patterns that may occur due to fraudulent activity on a lost or a stolen card… Retailers have also come up with a “Spot and Stop Card Fraud” education and training program to increase this awareness among retail staff.

Precautions on a personal level are also the requirement of the time. Always give your phone number to the company for verification of suspicious transactions and contact your bank immediately if you do not get your monthly statement on time. Try to eschew away from phone calls and emails seeking your account, and remember to sabotage your credit card statement after use. It is completely preposterous to have implicit trust on anyone, and give a photocopy of both sides of your card for any kind of processing. Lastly, try to be a bit secretive about your card even among your friends and don’t just go blabbering about it.

So go on, be scrupulous, guard yourself and defeat the criminals. Play safe…

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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