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Where were you scammed? Don’t ask your bank

My debit card got skimmed this past weekend. Yours probably did too. I noticed it when I went to a Rexall in Whistler Village to buy a bottle of shampoo. My fast-receding hair doesn't naturally smell of roses so I need to wash the stuff.

My debit card got skimmed this past weekend. Yours probably did too.

I noticed it when I went to a Rexall in Whistler Village to buy a bottle of shampoo. My fast-receding hair doesn't naturally smell of roses so I need to wash the stuff.

But what happens? I get a notice on the debt machine that "card not setup" - a welcome respite from "insufficient funds" but an alarming message nonetheless. About an hour earlier I got lunch at Avalanche Pizza and there were no debit problems there. Whatever - I have a credit card so I can make purchases that way.

So I get to the office the next day and a colleague is chasing down a story about debit-skimming - a scheme in which fraudsters use a computer and card-writer to duplicate debit cards and steal the money in the account. That must have been the problem.

Sure enough, I call Vancity and that's precisely the case. They've frozen my card without telling me, for my safety. Fair enough, I think. I'm a loyal Vancity customer and I'm happy that they've protected the security of my account. It might have been nice for them to tell me rather than me finding out on my own, but again, no big deal.

It's when I call the institution that I begin to get frustrated. I've been a Vancity member almost since I was born and I've always appreciated the service I've received. But today tests my patience. I speak to a customer sales representative who confirms my card has been used at a location suspected for the skimming scheme.

Where, I ask, is this skimming happening?

"It's really difficult for us to know," the CSR tells me. "Corporate security, they might know where it happened, but we don't have the privilege of knowing that information."

Is there anyone I can call at corporate security?

"No," she says. "What happens is that, two things can happen. The other party, vendor, they were the victim in this case because a lot of the time they don't know if their machines were being used. In that case, their identity is protected as well."

Wait a minute, the vendor was a victim here? What about the holder who might have had their card skimmed and used to buy a flat-screen TV?

I pressed her further. What's to prevent this happening to me again? How will I know not to go places where my card's going to be skimmed?

Trying to interrupt me, she says it, "doesn't happen very often." That's despite a proliferation of reported instances across Canada since 2001.

I tell her it happens often enough to put me at a significant disadvantage because I'm a loyal Vancity customer and I can't exactly get a new card in Whistler. I won't be anywhere near a branch until the weekend.

She said she could temporarily open it for me - a nice short-term solution unless my card had, in fact, been skimmed. That's not what I'm looking for. I want to know how to avoid a debit scam again and by now it sounds to me like my credit union is trying to protect the vendor rather than a member it's had for two decades.

She tells me to look over the transactions I've made over the last two or three days. Great! There's about 10 of them there!

To be fair here, it's my fault that for the rest of the week I'm suffering the inconvenience of not having a debit card. I don't especially need anything but you never know what can come up. It's also my fault that I'm sticking with Vancity rather than packing up my money and moving to North Shore Credit Union.

It's also my fault that I choose to carry a debit card rather than cash. That too is a security measure so I avoid having money stolen from me by the hoods who come to town on a long weekend (like the past one).

What riles me is the conspiracy of silence surrounding where these scams are happening. Clearly they're within Whistler. I'd like to think that Vancity has a duty to me as a customer, regardless of how long I've been with them. They've taken the smart action by canceling my card but I want to know where not to use my card so as to avoid having my card cancelled in future. Or skimmed - either is a valid concern.

I don't much care that releasing such information would impact a business. Vancity and other credit unions are doing more damage to businesses by encouraging their customers to be safe rather than spend. They could combine the two by at least letting people know where they got scammed.

Businesses, likewise, ought to be informed that they've been targeted for debit skimming and then at least inform their customers of that possibility. Because as it stands, it seems like credit unions and businesses care much more for the well-being of themselves than they do their customers.