LA QUINTA, Calif. -

Everyday most Americans have to pay for something,  whether it's groceries, gas, bills or a luxury item. If there's money in the bank or you know you have a good line of credit, you may not think twice about swiping your debit or credit card.  It's time to pay attention because cyber criminals are accessing our accounts at an alarming rate and according to law enforcement, at this point, it's up to us individually to protect our hard earned cash!

La Quinta mom, Leslie Whitehead, has had her debit card compromised, not once but twice. the first time her bank alerted her to the problem and she cancelled her card and the money stolen was replaced. The second time, checking to see if the house payment had cleared, she discovered the money had been withdrawn, but not by the bank. "The second time they took more than a thousand dollars, they said that the card had been used at O'hare Airport and in Orlando," Florida at a Home Depot, says Whitehead.

According to County Supervisor John Benoit, "bank robberies are down, it's much more difficult and much more dangerous for the robber to go to the bank then to sit at home at his computer, so that's where we're seeing the growth in crime."

While people like Whitehead continue to fall victim to the cyber hacking, the banks and even merchants are struggling to upgrade their systems so the faceless criminals will have less of a chance to get your money.  The Target scandal over the holidays was quite a scare for millions who regularly shop there. Trying to secure the system and upgrade the technology is costing the corporation in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  

Supervisor Benoit says, "It's just absolutely impossible for a $2000 or a $5000 crime, to send a detective to New York let alone Europe or China and try and track somebody down and then bring them back for that, that's why those people are being so successful.  That's why we all have to keep our guard up." 

Even if you are careful and swipe your card only at your favorite Valley locations you can be stung if the merchant's payment system has been hacked.  Such is the case at the Desert Express Car Wash in La Quinta. Forty-three people reported their cards had been compromised there.  Riverside County Sheriff, Sergeant Alan Northrup confirms the information.  "Yes, it seems to be, they have a wireless system and it seems that the compromise came from an external source."

In this case the owner immediately worked with law enforcement to fix the situation by upgrading equipment to guarantee customers information will not be stolen again. The breach happened between October and December 2013.

 A lot of times these people that conduct this fraudulent activity prey on these merchants and try to find systems they can hack into.  And then they obtain victims credit card information and then turn around and sell that information on the black market," according to Sgt. Northrup.

For Whitehead, the fear of her card being compromised a third time has her and her family using cash more often even at the gas station and grocery store.  She says, "It's frustrating to have to order a new card, and the same process can happen over and over so really and truly I know it's an extra step, but it's something my husband and I have been trying to do."

Sergeant Northrup agrees cash might be a better choice for smaller purchases, but not to give up on using your debit card. He says to pay attention to your bank statements to make sure no one is using your card and if you find something that doesn't make sense, call your bank immediately and report it to your local police department.