Credit Card Woes

I got a call from my bank yesterday checking on some recent charges. This happens a lot, and I’ve always been very glad for it. I wasn’t sure about one charge yesterday, so the woman on the phone put my account on hold. Thank God she did – today the charges appeared. I had no idea I’d been to Miami, let alone bought lots of gas there! There were not one, but four charges, all around $75, all at gas stations in and around Miami. The card is now officially cancelled.

How’d it happen? I figure it was at the local gas station. There’d been a report about scam artists who were using some wonky technology to read card numbers as they are scanned at the gas pump. But I hadn’t bought gas in two weeks, so how can that be? Could it have been when I took my daughter back to school and used it at the local ATM? No, that was inside the building and right next to a real live person’s desk in full view of other bank employees. It could’ve been at the restaurant I took her to, or at the Starbucks on the turnpike or hell, at the local grocery store here. Or maybe when TJMaxx had that breakin, my numbers have been floating around in cyberspace and someone just now used them. How will I ever know?

I won’t. But luckily I don’t have to. The charges are already being disputed, and my bank, which is fantastic, has already sent a new card my way as of today. I won’t tell you my bank because, hey, there’s already too much personal information floating around on the Internet – why give away the farm?

What’s so odd about all this is that I’m ultra-cautious. I shred everything. I burn stuff. I buy stuff online at secure sites (in fact the dude at the bank said it’s very unlikely this happened as a result of an online purchase). I watch my back, but apparently not well enough.

So my experience should serve as a PSA for all of us. If you want to protect your credit, your numbers, and your money, take precautions. I suggest the following:

– Pay cash for gas, or walk that card inside and interact with a real live person.

– Don’t use the debit function if you can use the credit function. Sure, you’ll have to sign something, but your money’s just a smidgen safer than if you punch in those numbers.

– Use cash.

– Don’t use ATMs in public places, such as malls or outside gas stations, stores, etc. Go inside if you can. Also, know that ATM kiosk at your bank (if it’s an outside one). If anything looks different – key pad, card slot or even an additional security camera, don’t use it.

– Go back to using checks. Take it to the bank and withdraw it properly.

– Go to Staples. Buy a shredder. Shred everything that has any identifiable information on it. That includes checking/savings statements, credit card statements, cancelled checks, pay stubs, old 1040s, bills, etc. Leave nothing to chance.

– Cut up your old credit cards. Make them unreadable before you throw them out. I melt mine. It smells like hell, but just try reading the numbers after they’ve been in the fireplace.

– Never give out your PIN to anyone. Ever.

– Don’t lend your card to anyone. Ever. Including your kid.

– Know those credit card offers and checks that come in with your name on them? Do you toss them? You shouldn’t. You should be shredding them. I do. I rip the “convenience checks” off and run them through the shredder.

Any other ideas?

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  • Sheri September 12, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    It’s a drastic step, but many states now allow you to freeze all access to your credit records permanently, thus making it much harder for anyone to open a new acct in your name/steal your ID.

    As a former victim of ID theft, I did this for my huband and me. It’s far more powerful than “fraud alerts” which are sometimes ignored or overlooked by merchants.

    Down side? It can be a pain in the rear! It means we cannot apply for any new credit cards or loans…or open a new bank account without unfreezing access (at $10 a pop) and refreezing.

    BUT it does give us more peace-of-mind.

  • Lori September 12, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Wow, that’s extreme! But in your situation, Sheri, I would’ve done the same thing.

    Something to consider. Definitely! I mean, a little inconvenience and a few dollars to save slews of headaches? Small price to pay.

  • avid writer September 14, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Wow. Identity theft is big business now.:( Sorry you had to deal with this lori and sheri. I’ve been there too unfortunately.