Debit Card Thief Manages the Impossible: Spends $293 at Panda Express

Police in Colorado are looking for a man who they say stole a debit card out of a car on Aug. 5 and used it to make hundreds of dollars of fraudulent purchases, including nearly $300 at a Panda Express, reports Fox 21 in Colorado Springs. I would really like to know what exactly this guy bought at Panda Express, because by my calculations, even if you bought everything off the Panda Express menu in its largest size available, it would cost only $182.70.

That’s before tax, of course. I suppose if you add extras to everything, got a ton of drinks (my fake order only had a large fountain drink, a Gatorade and one bottled water) and added tax to that, a $293.11 bill at Panda Express is plausible.

The thief also allegedly fueled up for $158.22 at a convenience store. The average gas price in the Colorado Springs metro area (which includes Pueblo, where this happened) was $2.72 last month. That would be more than 58 gallons of gas, which would top off nearly three Ford Ranger gas tanks (what the suspect was said to be driving), so perhaps he came prepared with gas cans. However the spending happened, it seems safe to assume this guy won’t have to go to a grocery store or gas station any time soon.

Police say the thief also spent $392.49 at a nearby Walmart, bringing the hourlong spending spree to about $843, which isn’t that crazy when you compare it to an $18,000 spending binge on a stolen credit card that I wrote about recently. The Colorado incident involved a debit card, so the thief may have been limited by the bank account balance. In that regard, the fraud involving Panda Express is much worse, because the victim was out $843 until the bank replaced the funds, which is a huge pain and can lead to longer-term consequences for the victim if they had bills to pay before they were made whole. Missed payments can lead to a lower credit score (you can see if your payment history is helping or hurting your credit scores for free on, eviction, repossession and much worse. (That’s an argument for using credit cards over debit cards — it’s also an argument for not leaving your wallet in the car, where someone passing by can break in and promptly satisfy his intense craving for drive-thru Chinese, as seems to have happened in this case.)

One more thing: If this all happened within an hour, as the Fox 21 report says it did, how much food must Panda Express had on hand to fulfill a nearly $300 order and still give this guy enough time to shop at Walmart and pump a boatload of gasoline? Remarkable.

If you have the option of setting up transactional monitoring on your debit and credit cards, this story is the perfect example of why you would want to do that. Many banks offer this service for free, and it allows you to immediately know if someone is using your card without your permission, so you can stop the spending and ideally make the recovery process much easier.

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This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.