Kids and Money: Beware of online banking traps

Steve Rosen
Kansas City Star

So much for the simplicity of online banking.

What started recently with a couple of clicks to activate a new debit card turned into a string of shopping pitches that left me worried and angry that someone might have been trying to steal my personal information.

While I followed my instincts and steered clear of something that was way out of the norm, it did make me wonder how a typical 16-year-old who has yet to develop that gut feeling would have handled this situation. Or even a college student?

What follows is the scenario my wife and I encountered. Keep in mind that this just as easily could have happened to your teenager.

It started with needing to activate a new debit card, either by calling the bank or going online. Pretty safe choices. We opted to go online and clicked on the activation box. Done, or so we thought.

That’s when things got strange. The webpage also offered instructions on how to “select or change” your personal identification number — you could go to a bank office or call customer service. The message was a subtle prompt that you needed to do this. We made the call.

But instead of being directed to a bank customer service representative, we were tossed into a shopping loop. There were a number of ads, including one for a home security system, another for insurance and a pitch for three nights in the Bahamas.

During the five minutes worth of commercial messages, we were never asked if we wanted to be connected to customer service to create our PIN.

The last straw? It was a pitch to receive a $100 gift card to be used at a Walmart or Target. All you had to do was pay $1.99, “and please have your credit card ready,” the message said.

I hung up.

And if faced with similar circumstances, your teen should do the same.

Bill Hardekopf, publisher of the website, said young bank cardholders should be suspicious of any “over-the-phone pitch where you’re prompted to give your credit card number or debit card number unless you’re sure who you’re dealing with.”

Even then, he said, better to hang up and call the card company’s customer service phone number listed on the back of the plastic. The same goes for online transactions with companies and websites you’re not familiar with.

As for how my banking transaction turned shopping trip happened in the first place, I was told by the bank that someone had transposed two digits in the phone number when creating the online instructions. Mere coincidence, I guess, that the bad number was for a shopping service, which the bank assured me it had no involvement in.

That’s a big oops, especially for anybody who might have charged $1.99 to their account for that $100 gift card — or gone even deeper into the shopping service.