Credit Card Fraud Is Easy

Friday, August 29, 2008

Three weeks ago, I had a very unfortunate incident happen to me. I was at a seedy bar in the SOMA and made the stupid mistake of putting down my purse and jacket on a shelf next to the dance floor (I blame the Stanford bubble). I thought I would be watching the purse. Needless to say, when I returned to it from dancing, everything was gone.

This is when things got interesting. The same night at 4 a.m., my parents received a call from my cell phone. The guy on the other line told them that he works at the bar where I was, that he found my purse and that I could come pick it up the next day. Elated, I did not cancel any of my credit cards or my cell phone and ran over to the bar the next evening only to discover that he had lied to my parents and my purse was long gone. I immediately canceled my credit cards, filed a police report and waited. Over the next couple of days, I looked at online my credit card transactions with horror as more and more charges appeared on them. In total, the guy charges more than $1,000 to my credit card and checking accounts. It was horrible to watch that and not be able to do anything about it.

In retrospect, this probably was a cheap lesson to learn. I am now extremely aware of how easy it is to fall prey to identity theft and advise everyone to be extremely careful about their financial identity. You can never be too careful.

What really got me today, though, is buying lunch using my debit card. I have stopped signing the back of my credit cards. That line is now blank and the idea is that it is not authorized unless signed or unless the merchant verifies that it actually belongs to me by checking it against an ID. This guy, however, looked at the back of my card, got a little confused, swiped it nonetheless and gave it back to me.

I could not just leave it like that. So I smiled, batted my eyelashes and told him that "You know, it's not signed in the back." He got ever more confused and then dropped a bomb on me: "Oh...what does that mean?" Seriously?! Are not merchants supposed to train their staff how to handle electronic charges?! It just blew me away. So I summarized my story to him in one sentence and told him that he should really check people's signatures on the back of the card and even check IDs. he said he definitely would in a tone that clearly indicated that I should not hold up the line. I am sure he forgot about me the next minute, but I could not have just stood there. Maybe this was a small, but still step, toward greater credit card safety.

I hear that if you put "SEE ID" on the line instead of your signature, it might also work. This way, the card is not valid unless the merchant sees my ID and checks that the card actually belongs to the person who is using it. There are mixed opinions about the validity of this method - see for and against. But I do not care. Whatever might give me greater protection gets my vote.


Jason said...

I put SEE ID on my credit card, and rarely do people ever ask for it. But somehow I hope that if someone seedy looking ever gets my credit card, the person will be more willing to ask. Maybe not.