PhotoCracking down on data theft is kind of like squeezing a balloon: press down on a bulge in one area, and it'll only swell somewhere else.

So perhaps it's no surprise that today's Wall Street Journal reports the distressing statistic that, while brick-and-mortar merchants have been cracking down on data fraud at the checkout counter, criminals responded by attacking automatic teller machines, targeting not just bank-owned ATMs but the independently owned “cash kiosks” common in shopping malls, restaurants and other businesses.

(And that's not even counting the prevalence of hidden “skimmers” used to steal data from any ATM card swiped through them.)

Relatively easy

For a thief equipped with the right tools, it's relatively easy to steal debit card information and make counterfeit debit cards, which are then used to steal money from ATMs. The Journal said that according to FICO, the credit-scoring and analytics firm, the period spanning from January to April 9, 2015 saw more debit-card ATM attacks than any previous period in the past 20 years:

Debit-card compromises at ATMs located on bank property jumped 174% from Jan. 1 to April 9, compared with the same period last year, while successful attacks at nonbank machines soared by 317%, according to FICO. … The company declined to disclose the total number of such incidents, citing contractual restrictions with its customers.

ATM fraud has been growing overseas, too. Just last week, we reported the discovery of a new form of ATM fraud plaguing banks in Britain: thieves armed with nothing more than an iPod and a piece of plastic can spy on would-be ATM customers, steal their passcode and arrange for the machine to “eat” their cards – which are then retrieved and used to drain money from the account while the victim contacts bank personnel about their apparently faulty ATM. However, that form of fraud involves stealing and using legitimate ATM cards, not making counterfeit cards as reported by FICO.

It's important to remember that from an individual cardholder's perspective, debit card fraud is much worse than credit card fraud, because debit cards withdraw money directly from your savings accounts, whereas credit card purchases essentially borrow money from the credit card company.

This means that even if your debit-card fraudulent-charge complaint is ultimately settled in your favor, with the bank ultimately making full restitution to you – you still have to go without your money while the matter is being resolved.

If you do have a debit card, even if you're convinced that your account numbers are safe from thieves, you still need to check your account activity on a regular basis, whether you've used the card recently or not, so that if fraudulent withdrawals do occur, you can report them to your bank as soon as possible.

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