Friday, April 14, 2006

At least it's less painful than having my debit card hacked

Some researcher, somewhere, must have calculated the odds of having your credit-card information intercepted and used fraudulently. In the typical consumer lifespan, how many times is one statistically likely to hit the problem, on average?

I'm now on go-round #3.

Both times before, it's been my Netbank Visa/check card that got nailed. The first (I can't remember exactly when -- perhaps three years ago?) was the ugliest: someone got hold of both my card number and PIN, and made a dummy card that was used to withdraw about $1,200 from an ATM in Queens, the entirety of what was in my account. No one has my PIN, and I had my card on me the whole time this was going on. What probably happened was that my card got hit in an ATM skimming scam. I'm not completely oblivious and would likely have spotted a suspicious device, but a hot new trend in fraud is internally rigged ATMs -- and I do pretty regularly use the kind of non-bank ATMs in convenience stores and whatnot that are most susceptible to this. (Well, I did. I *try* to stick with bank ATMs now ... but I fall off the wagon a lot ...)

Clearing that up entailed filing a police report, along with all the fraud paperwork at my bank, and waiting several weeks for my money to be credited back. To NetBank's credit, they didn't hassle me too much about "they used your PIN, you must have given it out!" or anything.

About a year ago, my NetBank account got cleaned out again, though this time it was a case of more "classic" credit card fraud. One morning a blizzard of charges appeared for expensive, out-of-town purchases at stores like Staples and Foot Locker. Call NetBank, file fraud paperwork, replace card, wait several weeks for a refund, lather, rinse ...

Neither incident ended up costing me money that wasn't refunded (although I did probably spend $10 or so tracking down and faxing police forms to my bank and getting things notarized, the first time). The most painful part each time was waiting the week or so it took for my new bank card to arrive, during which stretch I had no access to cash. Ug.

So this Tuesday, I stagger home at 9:30pm from a long day spent mostly at a hospital ... and find 10 messages on the answering machine. Nine were from merchants or Amex calling to say "Hi! We want to verify this large, suspicious charge on your card!"


I managed to ring back and connect to Amex's charge-verification unit about five minutes before it closed for the day. To Amex's credit, it seems like this is going to go about as smoothly as it can. They caught this early (a $500 online order from Nordstrom's was the first to set off their red-flags radar), proactively notified me, and it sounds like I don't have to file a pile of paperwork on this. They're taking care of contesting all the charges that came through on Tuesday from outside NYC, and of taking off the one suspicious charge I spotted that had already gone through. (Last Thursday, my Philly scamster apparently took the card for a trial run with a Domino's pizza order.) They also overnighted me a new card for free -- yay! It arrived Thursday.

(I initially thought that a particularly nice customer-service touch, that Amex was overnighting my card. If only my bank had done that ..., I thought. But then, on Thursday, I unexpectedly ended up putting several hundred dollars on my card -- and, lacking my Amex, I charged it to my backup Providian Visa. At which point it occurred to me that Amex has a strong self interest in getting me a new card as fast as physically possible. All those precious merchant transaction fees! Lost to a rival! Quelle horror!)

This time, the most painful part is going to be tracking down and changing all the things I have autobilling to my card. Grr.

So, three fraud-hacks in ... counts on fingers ... say about 10 years so far of active credit-using consumer life. Am I above average yet?