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Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Don’t dodge those credit card company calls; they could be warning you of fraud

Connie Prater

A new poll by a New York fraud prevention company reminded me of a cell phone call I got from my credit card company once. No. It wasn’t a debt collection call. An automated voice said they were calling to alert me to some unusual activity on my Visa card.

As it turns out the “unusual activity” was actually me, traveling on a road trip and buying gas in multiple states with my Visa card. I was still at the gas station when the call came through — perhaps a minute after the gas station attendant told me the transaction was denied. It seems buying gas is a common tactic used by fraudsters who have stolen credit cards.

Call me!
The poll of 200 consumers (I know, a small sampling) asked how credit cardholders would prefer to be notified of potential fraud on their accounts. A majority (54 percent) preferred cell phone calls from the credit card issuer. Another 20 percent said they prefer calls to landline phones, 20 percent said they wanted e-mail alerts and six percent preferred SMS/text messages on their cell phones.

A cell phone call would be my first choice as well. It’s the fastest way to reach me — although a text would be fine as well.

The poll’s authors note that credit card fraud as a percentage of overall identity theft has decreased for six years in a row, largely because credit card companies are reacting in real-time to prevent losses from fraudulent activity.

Keeping tabs on account activity
I’m especially sensitive to fraud because I was a victim of ID theft several years ago. So, another aspect of the poll — how often people, especially those who have been victims of fraud already, check their account status online — caught my eye. I would be among the 11 percent of the poll respondents who check their accounts daily.

Yes, daily. Online banking makes this very easy and quick. I know what purchases I’ve made and I check daily to see when they post to the account. I recently caught a suspicious charge from a hotel I had visited in August. They charged me an additional $12.88 AFTER I had checked out — even though I hadn’t charged anything to the room. I called and e-mailed the hotel’s accounting manager to question the charge. He called it a hotel error and credited my Visa account.

The majority of the people in the poll (53 percent) said they check their accounts weekly and a third (33 percent) check them once a month. Three percent said they never check their statements. Yikes! This is troubling since a popular credit card scam involves making small $1 transactions on a card to see if the card is valid and to slide under the radar of fraud detection programs.

I welcomed that call from my credit card issuer at the gas station — although it was an annoyance to have the transaction denied. What if it hadn’t been me buying all that gas and it really was fraud? Shutting down the account so quickly was a positive thing to protect both me and the bank, but mostly the bank. Since many credit card companies now have zero customer liability for fraud, there is more incentive for the banks to quickly identify and stop fraud losses. I’m sure there are probably people who have horror stories about not getting prompt notification. For me, that cell phone call from the bank offers piece of mind.

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  • Credit Critic

    I would still check my account online before picking up their phone calls. Chances are they’re trying to sell you something, even if they intend to inform you about potential fraud.
    I could see a call about fraud moving towards selling you a credit monitoring package, so consumer beware.

  • It’s true that they could be calling to sell you something. I really hate those calls. But here’s a way to avoid them. Go to the account online and specify which phone number they are to call for fraud alerts. You can have your primary (landline) phone handle sells calls, but put your mobile number as the contact for the fraud alerts. If you’re not sure how to do this, call the credit card issuer and ask them to set this up for you.

  • I would probably interrupt them and say I wasn’t interested if they called. It would probably be a better move on their part to send me a text. I know not everyone has texting on their cell phone, but since I got mine a few months ago I really like it much better for some things. This would be one of them.

  • If you’re a fan of NBC’s “The Office” sitcom, the Oct. 15 episode has a storyline about a credit card fraud call. Unfortunately, a co-worker answers the call from Capital One’s fraud unit and causes the card to be cancelled while the real accountholder is on his honeymoon in Puerto Rico.
    Here’s a link to the video. Skip ahead to 9:40 into this episode:
    http://www.nbc.com/The_Office/video/episodes/?vid=1167233#vid=1167233

  • Roomster

    Another fix is a little more expensive but more useful to a consumer.
    Unfortunately credit card fraud is really quite common these days, but
    there are ways that you can help to protect yourself. It is clear that as a
    business we are targeted as the goods we sell can be high value and are easily resalable.
    Many people lower their guard when transacting online.