Someone stole the number to this credit card. (Photo by Todd Dukart)
When you work in news — even in a semi-anonymous behind-the-scenes role like I do — you hear about it all the time. People’s credit card numbers are stolen and they get large bills racked up in their names.
“I’m pretty careful online,” I thought. “It’ll never happen to me.”
Then it happened to me.
Someone stole my credit card number and used it to at least attempt to buy a couple thousand dollars’ worth of stuff – clothing, mostly. So now instead of just navigating the tricky waters of Christmas gift shopping, I’m also navigating the waters of disputing fraudulent purchases on my main credit card – the one with the high credit limit and the nice rewards points. The one I now can’t use to buy gifts while I wait for the new card to arrive.
So here’s Part One of the story. This all happened yesterday. In the past, I had set up all sorts of text-messaging alerts with my credit card company, Chase. The most common one is a daily nudge reminding me that I carry a lot more debt on the card than I’d like, so it’s a motivator for me to pay it off.
I was at work, getting started on a web development project for WPRI.com, when my phone buzzed. New text message: Your balance is high. I looked at my phone, gave it the standard “I know, and I’m trying to pay it off” look, glancing at the previous messages to make sure my balance didn’t rise too much since the day before. (It was a couple bucks more, but I had spent a couple of bucks on music.) Back to work.
About an hour and a half later, another buzz from my phone. “Available credit below $1,000.00.” Something cleared, I thought. So I logged onto my account and checked what cleared: $200 or so at a website I had never heard of before. Some quick Google-fu revealed it to be a British clothing retailer who does quite a bit of business in the U.S. They had just never done any business with me.
I called Chase’s fraud hotline. The very first thing after I put in my card number was somewhat ominous, and in a different voice than the rest of the menu up to then: “Press 1 if you are calling about a recently declined transaction. Otherwise, press 2.”
After a little bit of menu navigation, I got connected to an operator who went through the transactions that hadn’t yet posted: $500. $1,500. $300. She mentioned a $2,000+ transaction that got declined — presumably the “recently declined transaction” from the menu.
The only two transactions she read that were legitimate were 99 cents at one online music store and 98 cents at another. I’ve heard in the past that music downloads are one way fraudsters check their stolen credit card numbers, but it seems this person went straight for the kill.
Anyway, the operator flagged those not-so-legitimate pending transactions as fraud, along with the British clothing store’s charge, and canceled my card number. I’m waiting for a replacement card to arrive in the mail — it’s only been a day.
This saga is certainly far from over. I now have what has the potential to be a boatload of paperwork, plus so far I have no idea who the thieves are or how they got a hold of my number. I try to keep it secure but either I made a mistake somewhere or one of the many companies with my card number released it (or got hacked), but I have no way to figure that out yet.
I’ll keep you posted. Still, a couple early lessons learned:
- Set up alerts. I found out about the fraud rather quickly thanks to my e-mail and text alerts, telling me when my available credit is below a certain amount or a transaction was posted above a certain amount. I also later discovered in my e-mail a foreign-transaction alert. (Although, to be honest, that may not have alerted me too much: I took a very recent weekend getaway to Canada and sometimes it takes a while for transactions to settle. I would’ve checked anyway but not with the “what on Earth?” feeling I got from my first alert.)
- Use only credit cards online. Granted, this is a challenge now that I don’t have access to my largest line of credit for Christmas shopping, but imagine if someone had cleaned out my checking account and caused my rent check to bounce. Now, if all this goes well, I’ll be on the hook for $50 at the most, but in this case probably the cost of a stamp because my card has $0 fraud liability.
Good link for those of you who may be in the same boat as me: The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on how to deal with credit card theft.
By the way, I have a call into Chase’s media hotline but I haven’t heard back yet. I’ll let you know what I find out from them.
Update 3:27 p.m.: Gail Hurdis, a spokesperson for Chase, sent me this statement via e-mail:
In general, Chase is actively involved in fraud protection. We use sophisticated systems to monitor and detect fraudulent activity and employ over 1,000 people dedicated to protecting our customers. I thought your readers may also be interested in some tips we frequently provide to customers for avoiding fraud.
To avoid fraud and identify theft, we encourage consumers to:
1. Secure your personal information. Do not carry your Social Security card with you.
2. Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call or know the organization.
3. Be aware of suspicious emails that may ask for confirmation of a credit card number, PIN or other sensitive information.
4. Monitor your accounts regularly, online and/or through your statements, and contact us if you see any suspicious transactions.
5. Shred all documents that contain sensitive information.
6. Check your credit bureau report at least once a year.
By the way, to get your credit report for free, the FTC and the three major credit bureaus operate annualcreditreport.com. That’s not the site you see advertised on TV a lot (which signs you up for a trial membership to a paid service), but is part of a 2003 law, the FACT Act, which requires each bureau to offer a free copy of your credit report each year.
Update 3:34 p.m.: Hurdis also mentioned a service that Chase offers to its customers where they can get instant text message alerts of suspicious transactions, and then respond by text whether the transaction is recognized or not. Customers can call 1-800-432-3117 to sign up. Other credit card companies may offer similar services, so you might want to call to see what you can do.