Going on vacation? Better call the credit card company to let them know if you’ll be charging in multiple states. I inadvertently triggered a fraud alert and freeze on my Bank of America Visa card during my recent vacation.
I was on the road most of our spring break this year, driving through six states while visiting relatives near and far and cringing at the rising cost of gasoline.
Rather than be tied down to using one specific gas card — and limiting my fill-up choices — I used my Visa card whenever I filled the tank on my mid-sized SUV. I gassed up in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Georgia in a one-week time period. By the seventh day, when the gas meter danced just above “E,” I pulled into a BP/Amoco station off of I-75 in southern Georgia and whipped out the Visa.
Credit card denied
When I tried to pay at the pump, a “See Attendant” message flashed on the screen. I went inside, swiped the card on the countertop machine and an “ID required” message came up. I pulled out my driver’s license, gave it to the attendant and waited. “It’s denied,” he said. I frowned. I was far from my limit on the card. Without missing a beat, I pulled two $20 bills from my pocket, gave it to the guy behind the counter and walked back to my car to fill up.
I had left my cell phone in the car and just as I arrived to pump the gas, my daughter was handing me a ringing cell phone from inside the car. The caller ID showed an unfamiliar 302 area code number.
“Hello?” I answered. An automated voice answered with, “This is Bank of America’s Fraud Alert division calling. We have detected some unusual activity on your account. For your protection, please verify the following three transactions.”
The voice faded in and out. I was to press “one” if a charge was accurate, but I couldn’t hear the amount so another option directed me to press another number to speak to a fraud representative.
I pumped the gas while on hold and another automated voice repeatedly said: “Please wait while we access your account information.”
Multiple charges in multiple states
I had finished pumping the gas and got back on the interstate before a person came online.
“Karen” said that the activity on my account triggered a fraud alert and they had frozen the account “for my protection.”
She added: “There were multiple charges in multiple states. That’s usually what the fraudsters do — go for gas in multiple states.”
“It’s me,” I said. I explained that we were on vacation for spring break and it was a road trip. I rattled off the places where I had filled up the tank. She asked when I would be returning home, and I said I’d be going back the next day and there would be charges in the same states on the trip back. She put a note in the file and cleared the account for additional charges.
“Thank you for being a Bank of America customer,” Karen said, ending the call. When I checked my e-mail a few days later, there was an item from Bank of America in the inbox with the subject “Fraud Alert: irregular credit card activity.”
The message instructed me to call or visit the bank’s fraud alert Web site: “We detected irregular activity on your Bank of America credit card on 3/14/2008. For your protection, you must verify this activity before you can continue using your card.”
“Well, that’s good,” my mother said, when I told her the story. It’s true that the credit card could have been stolen and a gang of gas-guzzling marauders could have been filling up across the Gulf coast states at my expense. So I’m eternally grateful for BoA’s diligence. I held my breath as I used the card the next day in Florida on the return trip. It worked. No problems.
Still, the ‘what ifs’ of the situation are clearly there. What if I hadn’t had cash on me? What if I didn’t have my debit card on me as a back-up or if I didn’t have cash in that account? What if I needed the Visa to book a hotel room along my travel route or buy amusement park tickets? What if I used the card to make automatic monthly payments for subscriptions or utilities? I could have been spending the last of my vacation making calls to straighten out a very big mess.
Guess the next time I make travel plans, I may have to send the itinerary to Bank of America.
See related: “Drive for rewards pushes old-style gas credit cards in ditch,” “Compare gas station credit cards,” “Don’t let soaring gas prices drive you to make the wrong gas buying decisions,” “Credit card fraud monitoring can halt legitimate purchases“