Around 7/8 years ago, I checked my bank statement and found that over £200 was charged to Virgin Trains. Not a big deal? Well, I never made the purchase. In fact, I had never ventured on Virgin Trains ever. I was never the type to ever check my bank statements, I used to used them and just put them in a box for another day. For some reason, this particular day I did.

I went straight to my bank and spoke with the manager. I was asked lots of questions, filled out some Fraud paperwork and told that it would be dealt with after an investigation. I started wondering how on earth it had happened, but came to no conclusion.

A few weeks later, the missing money was returned to me, thankfully! I also got a phone call from the police, they wanted to meet up with me to discuss what happened. I was instructed to go to the Fraud Department within Grampian Police (I was living in Aberdeen when this occured). When I met with them, they told me that my card was “skimmed”. I had no clue what being “skimmed” actually meant but was told that when I paid some something using my card, a clone of it was made.

According to Wikipedia

Skimming is the theft of credit card information used in an otherwise legitimate transaction. The thief can procure a victim’s credit card number using basic methods such as photocopying receipts or more advanced methods such as using a small electronic device (skimmer) to swipe and store hundreds of victims’ credit card numbers. Common scenarios for skimming are restaurants or bars where the skimmer has possession of the victim’s credit card out of their immediate view.

The police asked me numerous questions, trying to find out if I had any idea how it happened and then told me that I was one of a number of people that were skimmed by the same person. They arrested the person in question due to the fact he wasn’t a very bright criminal. The mastermind behind the operation basically got others to skim cards and then give him to details. With the details, he would buy football and train tickets to the matches. The problem was, he would get everything delivered to his own house but use fake names. After a sting operation, he was caught after stealing more than £45,000 in a few months.

After making my police statement, signing documents, I thought that would be the end of it. I got my money back after all. But no…

Next thing I know, lawyers were at the apartment interviewing me, asking me questions, telling me that the criminal in question was up in court and that I have been asked to be a witness. I was slightly confused as to me, a witness is someone who actually WITNESSES a crime. I was a victim. More statements given, paperwork signed, court papers through the door… I was ready to go to court. I was nervous, I’d never been to court in my life, going to the police station was scary enough, I myself felt like a criminal while being interviewed.

The day before I was due to go to court, I got a phone call saying the court case was being called off. The criminal finally changed his plea to guilty and he was sent to jail. I do not know how long he got in jail. Looking at our justice system, I’d guess no more than a year.

Phewww… it was over! I could go back to studying, partying and skipping class to go ten-pin bowling…

Sadly not!

I was accepted into a Computer Science Internship with a huge Engineering company and was told I was starting the following week. I had no “work” attire. Frantic calls to my parents who were still living in Kuwait and realising that any money they sent me to buy new clothes for my internship wouldn’t be cleared in time, I was stuck. My mom then said to me “Why don’t you try get a store card from Dorothy Perkins? Then when the money we send clears, pay it off”. So I did. I went to the store, signed up for the card, filled out all the paperwork and then after she called all the data through to headquarters, I was rejected. Flat out rejected.

The finance team instructed me that due to various factors, one being the fact that a fraud investigation was carried out, I couldn’t apply for a store card. They then told me to go online and do a free credit score check to determine what my credit rating was & try and improve it. In the short term, that didn’t help me out, I ended up getting a £100 emergency loan from University to buy clothes and I paid it back when my parent’s money cleared.

It wasn’t until 2 years later that I was finally accepted for a store card and my credit score improved dramatically. Looking back, getting a store card was the worst thing I could have ever ever done. I had a £250 limit and could never seem to pay it off. Interest grew and grew and it took me a good year to pay it off. I cut the card up and vowed NEVER to get a store card again. I’m still too scared to own a credit card, even though I know that actually owning a credit card boosts your credit rating (for some random reason!).

Til this day, I have no clue how my card was skimmed. I’ve very wary about who I give my card to. When I visit ATM machines, I stare at them to make sure no skimming devices have been fitted and I never leave my debit card with anyone without being in full eye contact with it. It’s sad that someone stealing money from you, you being a victim of fraud, can damage you and your credit rating, resulting in you facing years of repair.

Let’s hope it never happens again!

Have you ever been in the same situation? Have you had your card details stolen? Have you had a bad credit rating and spent years repairing it? Let me know!

1 Comment

  1. wirelesspaul Reply

    Thank you Michelle for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear that you have experienced the skimming and it’s sad to say that many people out there will do at some time in their lives also. It is scary to think that there are many ways of finding and using card information even if you are not the rightful card owner. It’s the price we pay sometimes for being able to pay for anything using the international payment networks of Visa and Mastercard as well as others.

    The same thing has happened to me a few times before. However, I religiously check my bank statements each day to check for any unusual transactions and fortunately use my credit card so even if my card details are compromised – they are effectively taking the bank’s money rather than having a direct link to my primary acount where my salary is deposited. When this has happened before, I think that my bank’s ability to overnight me a new card is a lifesaver and great customer service. (Disclaimer – it is a premium card with an annual fee). But it is also a good idea to have a second account at another financial institution just in case of situations like this happening so access to money is not completely removed.

    You had mention in your post about owning a credit card and how it boosts your rating. Used responsibly, it shows your financial institution about how you are able to conduct your business. Factors such as keeping within your credit limit, paying on time, keeping your utilization ratio low will now get directly reported on to a credit report. This will give potential future lenders (if you ever finance a car or house for instance) a good insight as to whether you will be a good risk or not for the future. Past behavior can be a good indicator to future behaviour. So responsible use is key and a good thing.

    You will probably never find out how somebody gets your card details. With chip and pin in the UK, nobody really gets to see your card or PIN number directly unless access to a skimming device has happened. It may have even been grabbed from the Internet if a site that you ordered goods from did not have the necessary protections in place encrypting your card details. But as you know now – it always pays to check your bank statements.

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