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Emily Starbuck Crone

Don't party with your credit card

It's every party animal's worst nightmare: Spending a wild night of fun at a bar or club only to later realize that your credit card has been charged thousands more than you remember spending. In August, this happened to Thomas Salter, a Georgia Tech alum who celebrated college graduation with a few friends and an American Express card he shares with his father.

According to police reports, 24-year-old Salter went bar-hopping with friends in Florida and landed at a strip club. He enjoyed a $500 private dance, tipped $100 and passed out in the VIP room. Salter told investigators he remembers being awakened twice and told, "Here, sign this. You have to sign this." After discovering a $53,000 charge on the AmEx bill, he and his father went to the sheriff's office. Salter is certain he did not authorize the charges; police reports say he told friends that after his expensive lap dance, he could only spend $600-$1,000 more. I contacted Salter, but he said he can't talk until the investigation is over. I'll have another blog with some advice from him later.

A similar case happened in October 2003 when a foreign business man spent an evening at Scores, a high-end strip club in NYC, and racked up $129,626 in charges across four credit cards. He claims he was continuously supplied with alcohol and doesn't remember authorizing the charges. Club workers insist he was competent when he signed the receipts. The man's credit card companies refused to throw out the charges, so he filed a lawsuit against the club.

Scores received a claim from another man that the club's employees forged his signature on receipts totaling $22,800, and a CEO was sued by American Express for $241,000 worth of disputed credit card charges at Scores. The CEO said all but $20,000 of the charges were fraudulent. Scores underwent a fraud investigation, but is still open for business.

While those cases are extreme, trouble comes easy to anyone who is too busy drinking to pay attention to their plastic.

Reasons why you should take cash, and only cash, when going out to drink:

1)    If you bring cash, you have a preset limit of how much you can spend. With a credit card, your credit limit is the limit, and that's not a good thing when you're getting buzzed. Waking up to an exorbitant receipt from the night before will only make your hangover worse.
 
2)    If you forget to close your tab and leave your card at the bar, you may be charged an extra gratuity fee, and your card could be difficult to retrieve, as many bars only have night hours.
 
3)    Bars and restaurants carry the highest risk for fraud and identity theft since employees leave your sight with the card. This primarily happens via skimming. Your card information is at even higher risk if left overnight at the club.

4)    If you are intoxicated, someone can more easily put you in a compromising position and steal your credit card or personal information.
 
5)    Businesses may also take advantage of you and overcharge if they think you are drunk and won't remember or notice (which may have happened in Salter's case). I know several people who have had this happen to them at restaurants, and didn't realize until it was too late.

Until this credit card with a built-in Breathalyzer comes out, leave your plastic at home when you party.

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