Thursday, April 10, 2008

The annual identity theft

Some people can't hang onto romantic partners for more than a few months. Me, I can't hang onto credit card numbers. Just once, I would like to have a card that actually hits its expiration date. Instead, I end up replacing my credit and ATM cards every year or so -- because the damn numbers get stolen. Repeatedly.

This time, I was so slammed at work I overlooked the problem for two days. At the end of March, an email popped up in my inbox, from American Express: "Alert: Possible Fraud Activity." The email listed a "possible suspicious charge": "On 03/31/08 for $24 at EQUIVA/SHELL POS."

Oh hell NOT AGAIN! my very tired and overcluttered-with-work brain yelped. Then my brain pulled a trick it doesn't usually do: it decided it was not equipped to deal with Yet Another Crisis, and it shunted the Amex email off to the darkest recesses of my mental filing cabinet. Figuring I'd deal with the Amex email Sometime Later, I instead forgot about it entirely. For two whole days. Until another friendly "Possible Fraud Alert" email popped up, and my brain grudgingly conceded that all right, there might be a situation here that should be dealt with. The brain then sulked off into a corner while I wearily picked up the phone to talk with Amex about what strange charges were hitting my card.

Half an hour later, it became clear that someone was having a fun time in Florida with my plastic. $220 or so in charges made it onto my statement; I gather there were more in the queue Amex caught before they posted. Sample highlight: $53.12 at a Fort Lauderdale McDonald's. I'm not sure which surprises me more - that McDonald's takes plastic (and Amex, even?), or that it's possible to spend $53 at McDonald's in one go.

Once again, this is a case of my numbers getting loose without my plastic ever leaving my possession: my card was safe in my wallet the whole time this nonsense was going down.

Once again, I'm going through the replacement dance. Amex cancelled my card and overnighted me a new one. I have at least five monthly payments that autobill to the card, and it's my one-click default payment method at half-a-dozen online retailers; I get to go spend a few hours changing all those settings. Le sigh. Only silver lining: When my ATM card gets hacked, I have to go file police reports. Amex does not require police reports.

Still. This is now Time #5 for me on the Financial Fraud Merry-Go-Round, the third just in the time I've been keeping Birds & Bills. (I see I managed to go all of 2007 without getting hit. Clearly some deity in charge of Giving Stacy Financial Grief was on sabbatical.) Anyone know what the Guinness Book record is?