“I’m sorry, your card has been declined.”
“Umm, okay could you try it again?”
“I swiped it twice times. It isn’t working.”
This is never a conversation you want to have after trying to pay for brunch, but it happened to me last month. No sooner did the last words come out of the waitress’s mouth than I saw my phone light up with an 800 number. I answered and heard the words, “We believe there have been fraudulent charges on your card.”
I motioned at Peach to pay the bill and I scurried outside to better hear the Visa representative read a list of over $500 in charges made throughout the state of Georgia. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the fraudsters who spent $19 at Jersey Mike’s Sub shop and purchased a lot of gas – come on, at least treat yourself!
The conversation with the Visa rep only took about five minutes to go over recent charges, confirm which ones were fraudulent and get reissued a card.
I brushed off the situation thinking it happens to everyone and thank goodness I have multiple credit cards so I don’t just rely on one.
Then exactly a week later my phone rang at 8:00 in the morning, waking me from a deep Saturday morning slumber.
“Hello?” I mumbled into my phone without even checking the number.
“This is American Express fraud alert.”
I shot up out of bed.
Again? In a week?! My mind went into hyper-drive. How could two of my credit cards fall prey to thieves within the span of a week? Did someone steal my social security number? Did I seriously have the misfortune to come into contact with two skimmers in such a short time span? (My boss thinks I left my wallet in a hotel room I stayed in recently and someone copied my numbers down.)
When my brain returned to normal function, I repeated the process I’d gone through with the Visa rep a week before. I confirmed which charges were fraud, nearly $1000 throughout South Africa, then got issued a new card.
I said a silent prayer that I still had two credit cards because I was in the middle of traveling for my best friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party and the hotel, rental car and events had all be secured with my credit card.
Except now I was on the defensive and convinced someone was waging war against my identity. I didn’t want any of my other cards to fall victim to fraud, but I couldn’t call my bank and tell them yet because I needed access to my MasterCard while I traveled.
Instead, I went to extreme measures and started by putting a fraud alert on my credit report – even though you only have to do this with one bureau because they report it to each other, I decided to just do it myself with all three. Then I went one step further and issued a security freeze on my credit reports.
The fraud alert just notifies the bureaus you’ve recently been a victim of fraud. They’ll monitor for requests coming in for new lines of credit and verify that you’ve authorized the request.
A security freeze makes your credit report Camp David.
The bureaus aren’t allowed to release your information to an inquiring lender without your direct consent. This means it would be incredibly difficult for a fraudster to apply for a credit card in my name or even worse apply for a major loan.
However, a security freeze also makes it a pain for me to apply for credit. Should I want to apply for a new line of credit I’ll have to call the bureaus, tell them my super-secret pin and “thaw” my credit report.
I can’t even use CreditKarma, Quizzle or CreditSesame right now because they can’t get at my report to give me a score.
When I returned home I had my bank reissue my MasterCard just to be proactive about the situation.
I realize I overreacted a bit to my situation, but it just seemed far too suspicious that two of my credit cards were compromised within a week. I still don’t really have an answer as to how it happened, but it’s frustrating how difficult it can be to ward against credit card fraud.
My boss at MagnifyMoney used to work in risk management and then headed the credit card division at Barclaycard, so the man knows a thing or two about credit card fraud. In response to my plight, he wrote a blog post on MagnifyMoney.com about 3 strategies for fighting credit card fraud.
I’m following his advice, but don’t regret the peace of mine I received from placing the security freeze on my reports.
Have you had issues with credit card fraud or identity theft? How did you handle them?
P.S. You should check out LBee’s story about identity theft. It makes mine a complete walk in the park.