Gilbert couple's debit account stolen, used in NJ and Africa

Posted: Updated:

GILBERT, Ariz -- For years we've all been told to use our debit cards to maintain control of spending and to keep from going into debt. But times are changing and it just might be time to start using that credit card again.

The Moskowitz family knows how to have some backyard fun. With several mouths to feed, Ken and Allison Moskowitz keep close tabs of their monthly expenses, but one day, "I went to go get milk and my transaction was denied," Allison said.

Her card was denied because cyber crooks hacked into Allison’s checking account and wiped it out.

"We found out from the bank that not only did they have our card number, they had our PIN number," she said.

They believe the theft happened at a Valley business when Allison used her debit card and PIN number.

The crooks wound up using the stolen account information to buy items at a Bed Bath & Beyond in New Jersey and the scammers also purchased two train tickets in Pretoria, South Africa.

"This one here was done in Africa for $868 and then we were charged by the bank for international transactions," Allison said.

Ken and Allison filed a report with the Gilbert Police Department. They also reported the theft to their bank, which eventually put all of the stolen money back into the couple's account.

"You think PIN numbers and codes and all that protect you, but it really doesn't," Allison said.

And that's very true, according to Ken Colburn, a computer expert who runs a company called Data Doctors.

"If you're typing in your PIN number with a debit card number and somebody captures that electronically, it's open, whatever's left in your account they'll spend it," he said.

Colburn said consumers might consider using credit cards instead of debit cards to protect themselves.

"Using a debit card of any sort, for anything other than pulling money out of your bank's ATM, to me, is a very risky, dangerous thing to do," he said.

Remember, debit cards take money directly out of your personal bank accounts so if it's compromised, you feel it and not only do debit cards give you less protection, but banks frequently take awhile to return your money.

The couple said they had a heck of a time getting their bank to replenish their account. That's why so many consumers like the Moskowitzes are now turning to their credit card for purchases and then paying off the balance in full when they get their bill.

"From this point forward I will never run my debit card as a debit again," Allison said.

Remember, using a credit card is safer and gives you better protection than debit, but don't get reckless and spend more than you can afford to pay off every pay period. The goal is getting your balance back down to zero.