How to spot the ‘cracking cards’ scam

college student debit card scam
September 29, 2016 | Maggie Jenkins

Each year, people fall victim to a scam known as “cracking cards.” Scammers crack into debit card accounts and leave card owners on the hook for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

Now, these scammers are using social media to target victims – especially college students and new grads who are strapped for cash. The scheme has cost banks millions, and April Clobes, president and CEO of Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, recently told USA Today that the average theft from her members’ accounts has been about $2,500. 

Learn the facts about this scam and what you can do to protect yourself and the people you know.

How it works

Someone contacts you through social media or even Craigslist and gives you the simple pitch: “Let us put money in your account, and we’ll give you a cut.” So, you hand over your account information, debit card or PIN. Then, the scammer deposits counterfeit checks -- and quickly withdraws money, your money.

How to report it

If you’re approached via social media, telephone or in person, contact your local law enforcement through their non-emergency line. If you received suspected fraud through the mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at or 1-877-876-2455.

What if you fall for it?

Unfortunately, there is little recourse for cracking cards victims. If you dispute the charges with your bank and claim your card was stolen or your account was hacked, you’re committing fraud. If you dispute the charges and tell your financial institution the truth -- that you willingly handed over your account information, debit card or PIN -- the bank or credit union will likely deny the claim and won’t credit your account.

How to protect yourself

Don’t share your account information, debit card or PIN with anyone, and never deposit funds from an unknown source into your account. And remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

For more information on this and other scams, visit

Maggie Jenkins is the PR and Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a sports journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

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