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I was robbed and the thieves spent my money at Zaxbys

Severo Avila

Severo Avila is Features Editor at the Rome News-Tribune.

Well I got robbed a couple days ago.

It's not as dramatic as it sounds. No one held me at gunpoint and took my money BUT someone did hack my checking account and went on a poor man's spending spree.

Here's the back story: On Thursday I went to McDonalds and got my usual — a 10-piece chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce AND hot mustard and a coke. I used my debit card to pay for it.

When I got back to work I checked my account online to see what my balance was. I do this pretty regularly. I bank with Regions and I have an app on my phone so I can easily see my checking and savings account activity. Anyhow I'm in the habit of checking my accounts because when you're poor like me you need to double check that you've got enough in the account to go out to a fancy dinner somewhere like Red Lobster or Olive Garden or Harvest Moon.

I can't just make major purchases like a new pair of crocs without consulting the account first.

But anyhow it's a good thing I was checking my accounts because I noticed there were four purchases on Thursday that I didn't make. One was to Subway, one was at a Citgo and two were at a Zaxby's.

So I know for sure that I haven't been to a Zaxby's or a Subway in a while. The Zaxby's entries had a number next to them. Like the store number. So I look those up and guess what? They're in Lithia Springs. So's the Citgo. Someone in Lithia Springs is buying fast food with MY money.

I know several people who've been victims of identity theft but it's never happened to me personally so of course I freak out for a minute. But then I call my bank and they were really really helpful. The first thing they did was cancel my debit card and issue a new one. They told me there are a hundred ways someone could have stolen my card information but one of the most prevalent ways is to put a "skimmer" on a gas pump and when you pay for gas with your card, the skimmer steals the card information and the hackers simply make new cards using your information. This could be how my account was accessed.

Thankfully the fools who used my account only made four relatively small purchases. I feel for people who've had hundreds and hundreds of dollars stolen from them.

And it's a good thing I was checking my account and just happened to see the purchases I know I didn't make. What if they had gone to Bojangles? I would have never known. I go to Bojangles so much that if you ever want to steal my identity, go there and buy whatever you want. I won't question those purchases at all. It's not unusual for me to go to Bojangles eight or nine times in one week. These fools made the fatal mistake of going to Subway. Like I would put anything healthy in my body. I caught that purchase immediately.

So anyway the bank cancelled my card and mailed a new one to me immediately. I had to wait until all those fraudulent charges were posted to my account (it took a couple days) and then I went to the bank to file an official fraud complaint.

Leslie Kadum at Regions was extremely sweet and very helpful. She made sure those were the only fraudulent charges on my account and explained the process to me of how the investigation would work and said all the money should be back in my account in the next few days.

I guess you could say I was lucky. I happened to catch the fraudulent charges the same day they were made and the thieves didn't take a whole lot of money out of my account.

But other people aren't so lucky. Leslie said some people go a really long time before even realizing money's missing from their account.

So if you take anything away from this column it's that it's a good idea to monitor your account activity regularly. But there are other steps you can take to keep your bank account secure. I read these AFTER my money was stolen. If buying online, only buy from secure sites, never save your debit card number on a website, avoid making purchases online over an open wifi network, never give any card numbers to unsolicited requests, check gas pumps and ATMs for skimming devices, check your account regularly for unauthorized withdrawals or charges, if possible check your credit report often for potential fraud, create unique passwords, don't access your account from a shared computer and don't click on email spam.

Hackers are all around us and they're getting more sophisticated every day. So keep a close eye on your credit and debit card accounts, especially if you're poor like me and you can't afford for a single cent to go missing from your account. My money is earmarked for Bojangles.

 

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune