A Money Coach in Canada

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Never use easy-to-guess PINs...

Guest Post by Harriet Fancott

My debit card was compromised a few days ago. My cell phone rang before 9 am, which seemed odd, so I grabbed it only to hear a recorded message indicating my ATM card had been cancelled. It said I should check my account to see if there was any unusual activity and then go to my branch in person with two pieces of ID to get my account sorted out and obtain a new debit card.

I immediately fired up my netbook to check my bank account while my toddler took it upon himself to tear the place apart by climbing on the table, grabbing pens and attempting to get at my keyboard – not ideal when engaging in online banking. I sat him in his highchair with a bowl of applesauce so I could take care of business.

A quick review of my account revealed a $360 withdrawal from an ATM in Surrey, a suburb about 45 minutes from Vancouver. I haven’t been to Surrey since I worked there about seven years ago so I knew it wasn’t me. Cue a minor panic attack. I then remembered that my card had been cancelled so I had no reason to worry about further charges. Still I had a paycheque to deposit and I was worried about getting back the $360. I needed to go to the bank pronto.

One slight problem: my son is at the age where he cannot go to a bank. At 16-months-old, he’s a nonverbal whirlwind of activity simultaneously charming and dangerous. I told my neighbor the situation, and she graciously took him off my hands for an hour while I hightailed it to the bank.

Clearly compromised cards are so common the bank doesn’t even flinch when you tell them you didn’t withdraw $360 charge from your account. The bank teller casually asked me if any other charges weren’t mine. I briefly considered adding a few but didn’t want to be ushered out of the bank in handcuffs. I asked her how they knew my card was caught in this compromising position with a shady ATM machine in the burbs, and she mumbled something about the police and security and switched the subject. Pressing on, I asked her what I could do to avoid this happening again and she said, “Pay cash.”

I had to fill out some forms, sign that I had not withdrawn the $360, and the teller set a reimbursement to my account in motion. She then set me up with a new debit card. The process was straightforward and took about half an hour.

Money coaches comment: Drawing on my time in the banking industry, this is a common experience. Naturally people want to know which merchant had a compromised machine. Usually the bankers themselves don’t know; the police don’t tell them. For one thing, often the merchant is a victim too (in that they had no clue their machines had been tampered with) and also, sometimes the police still want to catch the criminals so don’t want to give any indication that they’re onto the situation.
Regarding how to prevent it, I never use my card at a machine that is unattended, eg. at the gas pump. Unattended machines give opportunity for the criminals to insert their readers into the machine.

Harriet Fancott is an Associate at Limelite PR and blogs about her family at seetheorun.com

Readers, my understanding is that all (Cdn) banks will reimburse you if money is taken from your account, provided that a) you have never disclosed your PIN to anyone and that b) you sign affidavits. Have you ever heard of anyone not being refunded?

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. Rahel Bailie

    My understanding is that with the new cards that take PINs, there will be no reimbursement until you call the bank to advise them of a compromise. (BTW, the credit card companies generally pass the costs back to the retailer, so they get their pound of flesh from the other end. (Read Fatal System Error for a fascinating discussion of this.) Using compromised machines is only a single step in what could be a complex network of ways that hackers find your card info. If you use your card anywhere, anywhere, you are potentially at risk.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    Yes that’s true re: Visa. Banks take the hit themselves when it’s a debit card. Interesting re possible change afoot (you have to report it). Thanks for the Reco re: Fatal System Error. I’ll add it to my To Read Soon list – it’s got me intrigued (and somewhat worried!)


    Dec 11, 2010
  2. I’ve been through this process with Visa a couple of times. Visa is really, really good about it. Each time, they’ve been the ones to catch the fraud. I get calls like “Did you buy $9930 worth of chemicals in Florida?”
    Megan´s last [type] ..How is this possible


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    and you’re answer was “No, I didn’t” , wasn’t it, Megan? 😉


    Dec 12, 2010

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