Been ripped off by a teenage con artist? Here are some ideas for handling such a difficult situation, depending on the kind of fraud that was perpetrated. In this case, let’s assume your teenager invited someone to stay for a few days because s/he didn’t have any place to stay and seemed to be so needy and innocent. And this teenager has lived in the community for a long time and knows some of your teenager’s friends well. Several days later, you discover your son’s ATM account was emptied of $400. He and his guest went grocery shopping a few times, so that must have been when the “friend” memorized the PIN. A day later, the “friend” is gone. And took some expensive clothing along with an emergency credit card in your son’s wallet. Once you’ve discovered what was stolen, consider the following: Immediately change all the locks on all the doors. All of them! He probably had spare keys made. It’s easy to do, just using foam, chewing gum, or even just tracing the key on paper. My guess is he planned it and will be back or sell the keys. They do that. It may not be the “friend” who returns, but some druggie he has sold your house key and info to. They often case a place and sell the knowledge to people for drugs. This kid doesn’t sound like he’s a stranger to this. Contact the police department and tell them you want to file a theft complaint. The person whose credit/debit card was used will have to agree to press charges. If you press charges, the bank will have to honor the fraud claim if they were notified within 24 hours of the incident(s). Keep going higher up the chain until you find someone who will sympathize with you. If they won’t provide any help, ask them if they would put this in writing. Once you have it in writing, insist that the bank show you their written policy, and tell the bank employee that you are going to take it to the local newspaper because you want to protect other people from this “friend.” Write a letter to the bank and mail it certified mail, detailing the dates and time etc. and asking that they release a copy of the photo of the person who used the ATM card. They have it, even if they claim they don’t. In the certified letter, tell them they have 10 days to produce the photo for the police or you will refer it to an attorney for further legal action. Call the newspaper and ask to speak with a reporter. BRIEFLY tell them your story and ask if you can email the details. Indicate that you don’t want justice: you want to protect other people as this teenager is still out there. Call the local homeless shelters with your story and a description and a copy of the ATM photo. Ask shelter folks to report the teenager to the police if they see him. They like the alert. Post this story on CraigsList in and around the area where it occurred. Don’t use the person’s name until AFTER you get the ATM photo. Post the ATM photo. Tweet the URL of the CraigsList notice. Be persistent. So many people rip off banks, saying they had their ATM stolen or misused, and then won’t press charges that banks are reluctant to believe the victim. If the bank won’t cooperate: move your accounts. Usually that gets their attention, if you say you’ll not only move all your accounts, but that you’ll blog about the experience and tell all your friends, online and locally! Be persistent and insist on getting the reasons why they are refusing to make good on the account in writing. Tell the newspaper this: that real victims are being revictimized by criminals who pose as victims! It’s a story. Call the Assistant District Attorney and tell him/her you want to press charges. If you won’t press charges and go to court over it, no one will do anything for you. Sorry, but that’s our court system. This happens all the time. ALWAYS listen to your intuition!! It is NEVER wrong! Better to be rude than ripped off. I know you were trying to help, but if your gut says “Something’s not right,” believe it! The bank may say that your son gave the friend the PIN, but it it isn’t true, stick to your guns. Police still arrest someone who knows where your car keys are and takes your car without permission. He did NOT willingly give his “friend” the pin number, and it’s up to them to prove he did. People who’ve been ripped off have to decide what it is worth to them, but at the very least, they should insist on filing a police report. It is their right to do so. Also, tell police ALL of the people involved. They’ll want to talk to them. Keep repeating, “I’m afraid he’ll do this to other people.” Your son’s mutual friend may either be in on it (really, sad but true), or know where the con artist is. The police know how to lean on folks and can tell in a minute if they’re lying. They’re really good at that! So, be persistent! Check your state laws, as they do vary. The bottom line is, trust your intuition. The person in this article is lucky the “friend” wasn’t a serial killer or violent. Honest people will understand and respect your boundaries. If you really want to help someone with no place to stay, call the police or social services. There are agencies that help who are better equipped than you to deal with such situations. If you still want to help the occasional buddy who’s homeless, and you live out in the country, buy a small, used RV or trailer or build a small shed with a shower/toilet for a guesthouse. It’s better than what many people have and they’ll appreciate any dry, warm bed. Trust me: they will. Even people you do know can rip you off. Be careful. • Keep valuables locked up • Don’t store checks or credit cards in drawers etc. • Lock up jewelry as well. • A floor safe is the best - or one that bolts to the beams in a wall. You can find good ones for under $200 or even $100 for small items like cameras etc. • Have a dog or two: ones that bark • Have security alarms and security lights • Have dead bolts and good locks The above will be your best protection from strangers. Sadly, most thefts and sexual abuse comes from family members and neighbors! There are lots of online sources, but the most important thing I always taught in situations like this was, “Trust your gut. Your intuition is ALWAYS right.” Becky Blanton, who spent a year of homelessness, has always had an interest in the field of law enforcement, and graduated from a police academy in Colorado some years ago. And she taught safety classes as a guest speaker at some sororities and dorms at The University of Tennessee. More recently, she’s been a journalist, photographer, ghostwriter, entrepreneur, and mentor, providing small business solutions and giving presentations to nonprofits and small businesses. Blanton just won a trip to the TED Global conference in Oxford, England this summer, courtesy of Daniel Pink and the 7th Johnny Bunko Lesson.
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