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Protecting yourself

Lessons from an erroneous fraud alert

Karen Queen

As I swiped my credit card to pay for $750 in groceries on a four-day church beach retreat two states away, I envisioned all the rewards points going onto my new Bank of America Visa card — it pays 2 percent cash back on purchases made at grocery stores. My church would reimburse me for the groceries and I could treat myself to a meal out with the $15 cash back. It would be a small, but appreciated, compensation for several days of cooking and sleep deprivation with teenagers.

I pulled the card out of the machine, ready to sign the receipt. Not so fast. My card was rejected. Confused, I swiped the card again and was rejected again. The cashier tried with the same result.

Lessons from an erroneous fraud alert

The other adults in my party tried to ignore my embarrassment. I worried they thought I was either a credit card criminal or perhaps I had maxed out that card. Before my face got too red, I quickly pulled out another credit card, alas with no rewards, and paid for our food.

It took me a few days and a phone call to the credit card issuer to figure out the problem.

Although I, and my old credit cards, had been traveling to this beach and on this church trip for 14 years, the new credit card was a road trip newbie. So $750 worth of groceries at a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Wal-Mart 350 miles from where I live in Williamsburg, Virginia, tripped the fraud alert at my credit card issuer and the transaction was denied.

Instead of feeling angry or irritated, I felt safer. Yes, it was a hassle and an embarrassment but I could hope that if real fraudsters tried to use my card, the fraud detection team at Bank of America would catch them immediately.

I noted a few lessons from this experience.

First, I was grateful I had more than one credit card. A similar experience happened to a friend with only one card and she couldn’t use that card until she resolved the issue with her credit card issuer. That’s tough for many of us who rely on plastic.

Second, I decided it was time to carry only credit cards that offer rewards. I switched my remaining cards so that every time I swipe, I’m either getting cash back or travel rewards.

Third, I realized the onus was on me to let my credit card issuers know when and where I’d be traveling, whether it was a new place or not. Later, as I planned a trip to the Bahamas — our first trip there in four years — I alerted all our credit card issuers when and where we’d be gone. Sorting out a false-positive fraud alert via several international phone calls was not on our vacation agenda. With the heads up phone calls, we used our cards with no issues.

Finally, even though I settled last year’s Myrtle Beach trip with Bank of America, I’m still letting them know my plans before leaving this spring. Yes, I now have other rewards credit cards, but I really want to prove something by using this one — successfully, this time.

Related story: Credit card fraud false alarms common, survey says

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