I've never been to Texas, but my credit card number has.
December 11, 2008 7:51 AM   Subscribe

So the bank calls and asks me last night about suspicious charges to my Visa card. Apparently someone tried to charge over $7,500 in a mall in Houston. The thing is, I haven't lost my card and I've never been to Texas, or even close to it. The bank says I'm not liable for the charges, and the card number is canceled, but I feel like I should be doing more. I read a Consumer Reports article that claims that credit monitoring services are kind of weak. So what now, Mefites?
posted by 4ster to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Place a flag on your credit report with one of the three reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion). You can do it with all three, but they're supposed to share the flag among themselves, and in my experience they have done so. You can do this pretty easily online. It will require merchants to contact you at a number you designate before extending new credit.

There's probably not a whole lot more you CAN do. Use throwaway credit card numbers when shopping online, maybe?

This has happened to me several times (most recently last month) and it's sort of no big deal now. It's the reality that when you shop online or in stores, your credit card number is compromised and will probably be sold. Use your credit card more than your debit card (especially online) to keep your bank account from getting cleaned out.

And make sure you log in and monitor your card's activity (at least once a week, I do so almost every day) because the earlier you catch stuff like this, especially the small charges, the easier it is to get it resolved.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2008

Get a free credit report, check your computer for viruses/holes open from a file sharing program, and rethink where or how you throw out your mail. Also, think about any online purchases you've made in the last few months from less-than-great websites.
posted by cashman at 8:13 AM on December 11, 2008

Or gas stations/ATMs you've used your card at.

My parents had their card and driver's license stolen by being photocopied while renting a U-Haul to move my grandma to a nursing home.
posted by SpecialK at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2008

I can't really give you much advice on what to do, but I can shed some light on what probably happened: rather than stealing your actual card (which you'd notice and promptly cancel), thieves just steal your credit card number and other information. Then they write that information to a different card (the equipment is not hard to get) and sell the cards to people who go and buy things with them.

In many cases I think the people doing the buying (and who presumably would be the easiest to catch) are not the same people who actually do the card-writing, and the people writing the numbers to the cards and selling them are not necessarily the same people who actually steal the numbers. There's quite an economy built up around this stuff.

I was told (by the sympathetic-but-unhelpful police, when this happened to someone in my family) that card numbers are typically grabbed when you use it in a store; they -- and I have no idea how they really know this, so take it for what you will -- didn't think that they were being hacked or otherwise ripped off online.

They didn't give me any suggestions for preventing it in the future, and just told me to monitor my bill carefully.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:20 AM on December 11, 2008

There is nothing you can do via the bank - they will not report this unless you have suffered a financial loss (which you did not do, as the bank says that you are not liable). I know -- I tried to pursue a similar case and was told to report it to the police myself. The bank would not provide any details to support my report.
Don't be too freaked. I felt paranoid that my whole identity was stolen, but I have been monitoring my credit report since and nothing else has happened in over two years. The bank has changed your account so the card should be secure for now. But there are a couple of things that you should do.
If you have online account access, change the password and your "security question" answers -- NOW. The way that my incursion was done, they phoned up, gave my Mother's maiden name to the operator, and got the password to the online access. Then they changed the card address and tried to order stuff (again in Texas - could be the same bunch). Luckily, my bank caught this one and immediately stopped the card. I have had no problems since, but I now have fake answers to all of my security questions ... this makes it much harder to hack your account ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 8:20 AM on December 11, 2008

This has happened to me several times (most recently last month) and it's sort of no big deal now. It's the reality that when you shop online or in stores, your credit card number is compromised and will probably be sold.

In contrast to this, I've been buying stuff online for 10 years and I've never had this happen to me. I tend to stay far away from shady online stores that have good prices though, and tend stick to a few that I know are good (Amazon, Newegg, etc.) It's possible that I've just been luckier than average though.

I read a Consumer Reports article that claims that credit monitoring services are kind of weak.

That's true as far as I know. A lot let you check your credit report regularly, but the real security is in freezing your credit with the various agencies so that nobody can apply for new credit in your name, which you can do a small one-time fee for each credit bureau without a credit monitoring service.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:21 AM on December 11, 2008

This happened to me, except it was gas stations in Florida.

My advice is:
  1. File a police report where you live. Get the police report number.
  2. Make a written report of the fraud including police report number to your card issuer.
  3. Did any charges go through? If so, then you will need to follow up relentlessly until you have written confirmation that the. People have become liable for charges because they or their card issuer did not receive affidavits sent later in the process.
  4. In any case, watch especially closely for charges that post after today. The fraudulent last gas station charge in my case occurred after I reported the fraud, and I didn't realize it for a while, thinking I had already reported everything.
A credit monitoring service will do absolutely nothing for you in this case. You need to watch that one account, not your credit in general, at least not more than anyone else. You should keep getting your free annual credit reports from annualcreditreport.com and checking them like everyone else. I saw a good suggestion once that you should stagger your free credit reports, and get a new one every few months from a different bureau, instead of all three at once.
posted by grouse at 8:24 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Had my card number stolen once, charges were run up on in from the Czech Republic.

How did it happen? After replaying various scenes in my head, I remembered that there was a woman behind me in line at Target, who had her cellphone open at the time and pointed right at me as I was entering my card info. The bank rep also said there have been cases of people putting small cameras on ATMs, placed to capture all the important info.

These days when swiping my card, I make sure my thumb is over some of the letters and my body physically blocks others from seeing the pin.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:28 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you sure this is the bank calling? Did they ask you for any card ID?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2008

This happened to me too; another method that is apparently employed sometimes is that wait staff at restaurants can run your card through a second machine that copies all of the information off of your magnetic strip, and they use that to make a fraudulent copy of your card.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:04 AM on December 11, 2008

Speaking as an ex-hacker (I was a teenager, okay?) there's pretty much nothing you can do. This stuff happens.

A credit card number with security code and full home address appears to be going for about $150 these days. That's solid money for the vast swarming horde of bored teenagers and twenty somethings looking for easy cash. A little luck, some dumpster diving, an 'in' with a shredding service ... it doesn't take much.

And then of course there was the TJ Maxx debacle last year. They exposed 46 million credit card numbers, many with supporting information. And they went public about it, which is unusual in these cases.

On the other side of it, the credit card companies aren't interested in any anti-fraud measures that would cost more than $0.025 (a quarter of a cent) per card. Fraud is part of the credit card business.

Just keep an eye on your monthly statement and challenge the charges as soon as possible.
posted by tkolar at 9:18 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just want to reiterate the "no big deal" comments here. It's happened to me three times in the past five years. I was pretty freaked out the first time it happened, but it's a fairly minor inconvenience. They cancel your card, and send you a new one, so you're without that card for a week or so. If you've got anything that's automatically billed to your card (and let's stick to the above-board ones for that, so your major cell phone service provider is OK, the porn site is not), make sure they get the new card number. Don't worry about it too much. I haven't had anyone try to obtain credit in my name or anything like that.

(One time the fraudulent charge was from Canada, which may or may not have been related to the fact that I had been travelling in Canada a few months before.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2008

This just happened to me as well. Like, a couple of weeks ago. Charged a ton of stuff to my card in a place I'd never been. Bank of America was right on top of it and answered all my questions really well. What they told me was that it probably was somebody trying random numbers until one worked. They've been seeing it a lot lately. Apparently their monitors notice if one station has one or two misses followed by a success, so they stop the card (after the transaction, just in case it's you) and give you a call/email to confirm that it is you.

Just monitor your credit report, but you're probably fine for now. Just use it as a lesson in keeping your information secure.
posted by General Malaise at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2008

Follow up.
posted by tkolar at 3:50 PM on January 20, 2009

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