It was on the seventh of November just after midnight when I even had an inkling that something was wrong. I tried to withdraw some money, but my dependable and convenient bank card was refused at two locations. I knew I had money in my account. One of the people with me mentioned that the bank computer system sometimes goes down for repairs, and another bailed me out with a cash loan at a friendly interest rate. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered my banking institution had refused to accept my card.

I went over around 1:30 the next afternoon. I still wasn’t worried as the bank at one time used that tactic to get my attention. They wanted to talk to me. I was going to suggest a phone call in the future.

The reality was a far cry from what I expected.

Someone had cloned my bank card complete with passcode. This had happened sometime before Nov. 5 and now it was the afternoon of the seventh. I sat stunned as I learned my anonymous nemesis had deposited empty envelopes in the bank machine, claiming they contained cash or cheques. They pretended to deposit $10,000 and managed to withdraw $6,000 before anyone at the bank caught on.

Not knowing this, I asked for my bank balance. It was over $4,000. I told them I thought that was a little high. We looked at the transactions for the past few days. What I assume was a test deposit of a little over $800 was followed by increasingly larger amounts combined with successive withdrawals.

There’s no feeling like seeing your life violated in this manner. The level of frustration that you feel as you have no choice but to wait until things have been sorted out is unbelievable. I felt like life was on hold when I phoned the police and was told it would take up to a week for the fraud squad to get hold of me. The scary thing is that the wait wouldn’t be so long except for the fact that there is an increase of this type of crime happening in Quebec. Since it happened I met three other people with similar experiences in as many days.

I must say here that the TD Canada Trust bank came through with a replacement card in record time thanks to Derek Brown, one of their financial representatives. He also referred me to Jeff Keaye, one of their spokesmen, who could answer some questions about how to safeguard yourself from debit card fraud.

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Keep track of all your transactions. The latest trick is a fake terminal. It isn’t even connected to the system so if you notice a missing transaction then you will know you’ve more than likely been cloned. The only way to be sure of this

is to check each transaction against a monthly statement. That’s beside the fact that fees at those new non-bank auto-tellers can often come out to $4.50, making it pretty expensive just to pull out $20. And adds a little insult to the fake terminal threat.

2) Look out for shoulder surfers. They want your pin number.

3) Gas stations are notorious for the overhead cameras that capture you entering your pin number. Some stores may be doing this also.

As for myself, I plan to use nothing but actual bank machines just to be on the safe side. The store you have been using for the past ten years is probably a safe bet to continue using your card.

And yes, Interac is convenient. Canadians used Interac Direct Payment over 2.2 billion times to purchase goods and services from over 328,000 participating merchants in 2001 alone. That’s a 1,000 per cent increase since it went national in 1994. We should have known that at some point someone somewhere would find a way to illegally cash in on this phenomenon. Safeguard yourself, it’s up to you.