This past weekend I received an email from my bank stating that I had “irregular activity” on my debit card and that I should contact the fraud prevention team at my bank. Immediately, those little bubbles of stress started forming in my belly. As it is toward the end of the month and bills are due on the first, the few worries that circled my head were: how much did they get? Will this affect my credit? Today is Sunday so the bank is closed. I have little gas in my tank and usually don’t carry much cash. Ultimately it soured my whole day.
Instinctively, you should never answer an email like this no matter how official it may appear, so immediately I logged into my online banking account. As I glanced through everything appeared okay: The balance was what I thought it should be; there were no new charges that I hadn’t made myself; there were no “alerts” in my message center. Still, even after verifying all of the activity in my account was accurate those pesky little stress bubbles wouldn’t go away reminding me that the email said that if I didn’t respond there may be “limited access” to my debit card. Did I mention that I needed gas?
Calling the bank using a number not associated with the email (from a bank statement or the online account), I explained the communication I received. I was fully expecting them to tell me that it was SPAM and that my account was fine. Unfortunately, that was not the case in this situation. The bank really did send the email, and they really were about to freeze my debit card. The beacon of hope in my ordeal, however, was their response - “don’t worry, everything looks fine right now.” While this may have eased a portion of my concerns, I still wasn’t completely relieved.
During this time it was a Sunday; I couldn’t walk into a bank for cash; I did not have gas; I was informed it would be 7-10 days to replace my card; there was still plenty I had to worry about.
Apparently there was a database stolen which may have compromised my account, and the accounts of others. Details were still being withheld as this was an ongoing investigation. Fantastic! I use my account for all sorts of activity from local purchase to online shopping.
The “Freak-out Control Person” that I spoke with was magnificent – every crisis line needs this gentle man (purposely two words here). He told me that he would not freeze my card for a few hours so that I could get gas and go to an ATM and take cash out. He was going to send me my new card, and that I would soon receive a letter regarding the incident. While I wouldn’t be able to find out what happened for a few weeks, I could at least get myself back on track right away. Whew! Thankfully a nightmare became an inconvenience in just a matter of a few minutes.
Some of the lessons I took away from this ordeal:
- Everyone knows not to provide personal information in response to an email, but in a moment of panic, the temptation is to fix the problem quickly. Do not click on the link provided and do not call the number provided. Log on to your account or call the number on your statement.
- Have a bit of emergency cash. I’m not talking about hundreds of dollars, but stash away enough for a tank of gas and maybe a few meals or other emergency supplies. Even a simple power outage can prevent an ATM from working.
- Have a “safety account” with a separate banking institution. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of funds, but at least enough to keep you fed and some important bills paid for a couple of weeks.
- Try not to panic until after you speak with the crisis control people. They are patient and kind, but more importantly, they are trained specifically to help you understand what happened and what your next step should be.
A data breach should not be taken lightly. Just because my Sunday crisis was handled, does not mean it is over. Since a breach has occurred, I will need to be extra vigilant in watching my account balance and transactions for several months. I will also need to run my credit report through all three bureaus on www.annualcreditreport.com in a couple of months to verify that nothing inaccurate has appeared. When the letter from the bank comes, it will be legally obligated to offer me a year of free credit monitoring. Let me tell you, I will absolutely be taking advantage of this service.
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