Stella Louise is the editor of the Savings.com Blog & Save, a lifestyle blog for savvy consumers looking for unique ideas on how to save money.
After reading Nerdwallet’s recent post about credit card fraud, I’m amazed that my credit cards haven’t been compromised more often. As it happens, I’ve been the victim of unauthorized charges on my accounts twice–all in the last ten years.
The first time it happened, I had an inkling something fishy was afoot. I received a letter from my credit card company alerting me that they would be sending me a replacement card in the mail in the near future. Not having requested a replacement card, I called the company to see what was up. My current card, after all, wasn’t expired and was still working. The customer service rep was pleasant, but fairly clueless suggesting the replacement might have been triggered due to some error in reading the card’s magnetic strip.
Having performed that bit of due diligence, I promptly forgot about it–until I happened to be checking my account online and noticed some very odd charges. A couple hundred dollars spent on auto parts in Victorville? I have no idea where Victorville is and I can assure you than I’m not very likely to go on a shopping spree for brake pads and exhaust pipes.
I called my credit card company immediately. Since I had never received the replacement credit card it was pretty obvious it was intercepted at the postal processing office. I was told the charges would be placed in dispute while they investigated. They finally cleared my accounts but it took months of follow-up on my part to make sure not only were the unauthorized charges removed, but the erroneous fees and interest charges assessed for my non-payment of them.
I was so disgusted by how ineptly my account was handled, I ended up canceling it once everything had gotten straightened out.
The second time was just several years ago and happened with my Discover Card. Discover is my main credit card–I’m a big fan of their cash back rewards. Their fraud department is VERY diligent with seemingly innocuous incidents triggering them to place holds on my account. For example, at a gas station I had issues with getting the pump to work–it kept shutting off before I had a chance to fill my tank. This would complete the sale and in order to get the gas pumping again I’d have to swipe my card another time. By the time I finished filling up my tank and ended up at the drugstore to complete my next errand, the good folks at Discover had shut off my credit card requiring me to call and assure them that it was in my possession.
Another time I made a bunch of purchases in anticipation for a move I was making: new futon mattress, new linens, moving truck rental, etc. This deviation from my usual pattern of activity was enough to trigger a fraud alert requiring me to once again call their security department and answer a dozen identification verification questions before they’d release the hold on my card. After going through this several times, in addition to the embarrassment of having my paid-off-in-full-on-time-every-month credit card declined, I begged a customer service rep to adjust the fraud triggers so that these small incidents wouldn’t shut off my account unnecessarily.
Apparently and thankfully he didn’t because a couple of years ago around Christmas time I got a message on my voice mail instructing me to call Discover’s security department or my card’s functionality would be compromised. Irritated I made the call and impatiently wended my way through the security person’s interrogation. I’m all ready to say, “Yes, yes–my card is in my possession…,” when the next question he asks is, “Did you charge $1,200 at Walmart yesterday?”
I never shop at Walmart–much less spend $1,200 there! There’s only one Walmart in the immediate area and it’s MILES away and I’ve been there ONCE in ten years. Of course the Walmart that I allegedly charged $1,200 at was located in NJ while I am located in Los Angeles. It wasn’t difficult to determine that I wasn’t responsible for that charge nor any of the others that occurred on the east coast while I was most definitely on the west coast. After all, I can barely manage pumping gas without incident–there’s no way I could alter the space/time continuum to be two places at the same time!
I have no idea how the fraudsters obtained my info as the card was in my possession and the account details indicated a physical card was used to make the unauthorized charges. It’s possible that I was a victim of credit card skimming. My account had to be shut down and a new credit card issued. Despite the fact that the security officer I dealt with had all the personality of Mr. Smith from the Matrix trilogy, Discover handled straightening out my account much more efficiently than my previous experience.
So the lesson here is to be diligent in monitoring your credit card activity. Review those monthly statements with a fine-toothed comb! And don’t be too aggravated by your credit card’s security department–the short term inconvenience of them doing their job is greatly outweighed by the long term benefits of protecting your credit.