EC cards and crime

Watch out when using a card with a PIN number

EC cards and crime

In recent months, there has been an increase in crime related to PIN-numbers of EC-cards in Germany. Note that banks usually do not have to refund their customers after their EC-card has been stolen.

Ms. Sandy Blonde ran into the mishap of having her purse stolen with all vital documents, especially her bankcard. After immediately reporting the theft to her bank she had her card frozen. Ms. Blonde asked that this money would be refunded. The bank refused. They claimed she negligently gave it away because the thieves entered the correct PIN with the first attempt. Ms. Blonde defended her claim that the bank’s security measurements were not secure enough. This went to court and finally the Bundesgerichtshof (highest civil court in Germany) ruled this case (reference: BGH October 5. 2004, XI ZR 210/03).

Banks usually do not have to refund their customers after their EC-card has been stolen. The judges decided that the EC-card system with PIN is adequately safe against misuse. A customer can only then successfully sue the bank for the refunding of illegal use of the card if there is circumstantial evidence for a misuse or disturbance in the security measures.

The court ruled it to be mathematically impossible to crack the code of the EC-card. The mere theoretical possibility to decipher the code is not deficient enough to disqualify the bank’s security system. Those supporting the credit economy welcomed this decision. The judges also emphasized that banks may not refuse the verification of their security systems, whenever there are signs of deficiencies.

Consumer protection agencies have for a long time been criticizing that banks were warding off the inspection of their systems by experts. So far, experts have only been able to make statements founded on basic assumptions. Another opinion might rule a different judgment if the customer could demonstrate that he or she had been spied upon. Manipulation of ATMs is not something that just recently started.

Customers of Sparkassen (savings banks) have a blessing in disguise. Presuming the loss happened only negligently, they are only liable up to € 500 per day.

So how is Ms. Blonde to prevent misuse?

There are some very simple measures that she can easily apply to prevent the misuse of your cash card.

PIN Code: Never put it as a note on your card! Banks also advise not to write it on any documents, which are kept near to your cash card. Letters from the bank containing your PIN are to be destroyed after opening – best burnt or eaten. If you put into your mobile then, not under “PIN” or “Code”. Use a real name like you bank officer and hide PIN in what must look like a real number, e.g. Attorney von Engelhardt, 030PINN8639 or something like that.

At The Counter or ATM: BE CAUTIOUS! That is the maxim. While typing the PIN into the automatic teller machine cover your one hand with the other. Never is a PIN required to enter a bank! This is only a trick to get a hold of your PIN. In case the ATM takes in your card, consult a bank officer in the branch of the hungry ATM -- ASAP.

Furthermore, when entering a bank ask yourself following questions:

  • Is there a little box on top of the slot for your card? Don’t insert your card! Report it to the bank.
  • Is there a (new?) shade in front of the monitor? If so report this! Don’t withdraw there!!
  • Is there anybody watching you? Place your body to block his view.
  • What to do if you lose your card? Don’t just get upset or cry – get active and quickly!

In Case of Loss

Call the emergency number and have the card frozen. To do so you need the card and account number at hand. Note the circumstances of loss and file a report to the police. Countermand unauthorized withdrawals – immediately.

General emergency number: + 49 (0) 1805 – 021 021 (for all savings bank, Maestro-, bank and EC-cards).

Further information is obtainable in the internet under  – but only in German.

To help customers warding off damages from stolen bank and credit cards, the German Government has started planning to initiate a uniform emergency number for stolen. So, stay tuned to find out more.


This article has been provided by our partner Rechtsanwalt Alexander Baron von Engelhardt , legal expert for foreigners in Germany. For further information, go to  .

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