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Don't Let Your Funds Go Up in Flames

by Mark Singleton


In the early morning hours of January 18, 2011 a devastating fire destroyed a large section of 100 year old buildings that graced the County Square in Waxahachie.  Spectators watching from the Courthouse lawn felt that by 6:30 am the fire appeared to be under control. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, ceilings and walls collapsed and the buildings became an inferno.


We may be experiencing the same sort of misconception that the scorching economic recession is now just smoldering.  However, as a banker who must watch the financial landscape hour-to-hour, I must take this opportunity to warn that shielded behind the walls of optimism may be a firestorm of further destruction.


How many times in recent months have you looked at packed parking lots of malls and felt some relief that the recession must be over?  I reluctantly say that there are still a lot of thorns in the bed of roses.


There are indicators of a blaze kindling above a false ceiling.  Unemployment remains above 9%.  Home foreclosures continue at record numbers.  Consumers are using credit to buy necessities because they can’t stretch their paycheck far enough.  The economies of many foreign countries are on the brink of collapse.


These are worldwide headlines, however, I have my own litmus test on a local level.  It is the desperate people do desperate things in desperate times tracking I do.  And, it is never more prevalent than with identity theft.


Our bank has spent millions of dollars installing safeguards to protect our customers from hackers and hucksters.  Our vigilance must be kept constant every day to stay ahead of hustlers intent on finding ways to electronically steal funds.  However, all our work goes up in flames if people do not do their part in the protection process.


Recently, a good Samaritan customer brought in a debit card he had found on the ledge of one of our outdoor ATM machines.  Obviously, the user had laid his card on the ATM while retrieving his cash and receipt, then drove off forgetting the card.


That forgetfulness may be careless behavior, but it could happen to anyone.  What was absolutely inexcusable was that the person leaving the debit card at the ATM had scribbled their password on the back of the card.  All the time, effort and dollars we spend to protect our customers funds are wasted on individuals that recklessly allow crooks easy access to their money.


Here are some disturbing numbers.  Surveys show that one in five people use their birth date as their password.  The survey also showed that 15% of respondents had their password written down in their wallet, 17% had it recorded on their mobile phone and more than 50% use the same password for all their accounts.  Again, banks huge investment to protect accounts from criminals is only as good as their customers’ care or carelessness.


Hijackers of ID information have developed sophisticated systems to steal passwords from social networking.  ID gangsters scour Facebook, twitter and other electronic communication channels looking for common redundancies in the chatter.


Gather enough information about a person and finding their Social Security Number, date of birth and passwords to access banking accounts becomes much easier.  Even children often inadvertently pass along key data about their parents that experts in identity theft use to gain access to what would seem like secure financial assets.


So what can you do to protect yourself from the bad guys?  The first step is to use a password that is random in non-sequential numbers or letters.  Keep it etched in your mind, not written down or recorded anywhere else.


Try to use only the same ATM machines and be conscious of any new devise, especially a camera, that may be visually recording your transactions.

Subscribe to your bank’s instant credit/debit transaction program.  The system immediately lets you know when you, or anyone else, is using your debit or credit card.  It even can call you on your cell phone any time your card is used.  If it’s not you (or someone you authorize) using the card, then you can immediately track where the thief is stealing your funds.


Just when spectators took a sigh of relief that the fire in the historic downtown Waxahachie buildings was under control, the unexpected happened.  The loss was monumental.


And, seeing your bank accounts go up in flames can have the same catastrophic effect if you are not diligent in protecting your hard earned funds.  Take precautions now.