How to protect bank cards, avoid scams and choose a good pin

It’s hard enough to protect your personal and banking information in your own home country where you understand the language and are, possibly, aware of scams and threat. It’s even harder to protect your personal information as a new expat finding your way in a new country in a new language with new customs. Here are some great tips to help you protect yourself and your money…

Here’s how you could avoid that awful sinking moment…

Anyone who has had a bank card stolen will remember, forever, the empty-pit-in-the-stomach feeling when the discovery is made that the card has gone (even if only temporarily!). Almost as bad is the moment when you scan your bank statement and discover charges that are nothing to do with your daily life…

If you had lived say in London for years, you’d most likely be quite streetwise and would know about local scams and scamming trends through your friends, the news and social media. But if you’ve just moved to Barcelona, for example, don’t speak much Spanish and don’t have a network of local friends you could be more vulnerable to fraudulent use of your bank cards. Would you, for example, tell someone who looked respectable to go away if they offered help at a cash point? You probably would in your “back home” place, but would you in your new home city or town?

How to protect your banks cards

First of all, make note of every card you have in your wallet and the phone number that you would need to call to inform the bank that you have either lost your card or suspect fraudulent use. Keep that list separately from your cards and preferably leave a copy with someone you trust. You could also programme the banks’ contact numbers into your mobile phone.

Memorise your PIN code. It’s surprising how many people write the PIN on the card or carry it in the same wallet. (There’s a tip on how to remember a PIN at the end of this article.)

Be aware of the common practice of “shoulder surfing”. This is when someone stands very close to you while you are inputting your PIN number into a keypad. Always shield your inputting hand with the other hand.

Check the ATM machine for obvious signs of tampering such as a raised number keyboard (fake ones are installed on top of the real one), bulges or scratches around the slot where the card is inserted and/or a sign that asks you to input your PIN twice.

When paying always try to keep your card in your sights. It’s all too easy for sales staff to make a quick copy and then use the card information along with your personal information, to make a purchase.

Card Watch UK recommends the following extra measures to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of fraud:

  •     Never disclose your card’s PIN to anyone, including your bank’s staff.
  •     Destroy all documents including receipts that contain information about your card or account.
  •     Shop at secure online stores (look for HTTPS:// and the padlock symbol)
  •     Re-enter your card details on websites for each purchase rather than storing the information.
  •     Make sure your computer has up-to-date security software.
  •     Shop online from your personal compute not a shared one.
  •     Enter your online account by typing the address into the browser.
  •     Check your bank statements at a regular basis to make sure all transactions were made by you.

Common ATM Scams

You’ve put your card in the machine, tapped in the PIN code and chosen how much money you’d like to withdraw… Just then someone taps you on the shoulder and points at some “money” that you’ve dropped, you look down…and they reach round you and grab the money that the ATM machine has just ejected.

A fraudster inserts a “trap” in the ATM machine then waits for you to come along and insert your card. The machine holds onto your card and won’t eject it. The fraudster appears offering help and tells you to tap your PIN number in again. “That usually does it,” he says helpfully. Meanwhile he memorises your PIN and you give up, leaving your card in the machine thinking it’s safe in there. The thief then hooks the card out with the device he has inserted (often a thin strip of tape or ribbon) and uses your PIN to help himself to your funds. How to avoid this: check ATMs for any tampering (see above), never tap in your PIN unless the digital message asks for it and always shield your hand if a stranger is near to you.

Pick a sequence with a story

How to remember your PIN

If you’re having difficulty remembering PINs for your credit and debit cards, try this method suggested by memory experts and provided by Card Watch UK:

Picture each number between zero and nine as something that looks like its shape. This allows you to visualise numbers, making them easier to remember.

For example:

  • you could picture a zero as a football
  • the number one might be a pencil or a candle
  • and the number two a swan or a snake

Once the associations are made, you can create a story to remember a sequence of numbers. If, for instance, your PIN was ‘2021’, you could imagine yourself as a snake (2) playing football (0) with a swan (2) who was writing down the scores with a pencil (1).

Believe it or not, the crazier the story, says Card Watch UK, the stronger the chance of remembering it!

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