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MORRIS: A frustrating tale of credit card fraud

April 15, 2017

MorrisHave you ever been the victim of credit card fraud or, worse yet, identity theft? I’ve had it with these low-life thieves who prey on people constantly trying to get something for nothing. I say, “Get a job.”

Knock on wood, I’ve never had a full-blown identity-theft problem, but over the past 10 years or so, I’ve had four or five incidents of unauthorized use of a credit card. Most of them were handled quickly and the resolution was initiated by the credit card issuer—except for my most recent. More on that later.

My experience has been that American Express has a superior fraud-detection program. And I’ve come to appreciate their approach. I’ve had immediate communication from American Express on two separate occasions saying the company believed my card had been compromised. My card was canceled and a replacement delivered to my home by the end of the next day. That’s amazing service.

Have you ever had your transaction declined by a merchant while trying to make a purchase, only to find a text on your phone asking if you tried to make that purchase? While these protections might frustrate you, we all must understand this is the world we live in today. These procedures are in place for our protection. When a card issuer contacts me to ask if I made a purchase, I thank them for their diligence in helping protect my account. While you shouldn’t have to pay for fraudulent charges on your account, in the end, all of us pay dearly for these crimes.

Now, not every fraud situation goes as smoothly as I just described.

In January, I got the statement for my Best Buy credit card, issued by Citibank, expecting to see a zero balance. Instead, there were three charges for $5.34 and then a charge for $1,776.42. After being a little stunned, it quickly dawned on me that I was the victim of fraud. Even I know a standard practice of these crooks is to “ping” your account with a couple of small charges to see if they go through before going for the big one.

I called customer service right away to report the unauthorized use of my account. They took my information, canceled my card, took the charges off, and sent me a new card. All was good and I thought we were done, but I was wrong. About 30 days later, I got a letter from “security operations” telling me an investigation was completed and I was found to have “benefited from the transaction.” The charges were all restored to my account. Additionally, if I didn’t make at least the minimum payment by the due date, they would report my delinquency to all three credit agencies. The letter had a threatening tone as if I should be ashamed for falsely reporting a crime.

Well, if you thought I was stunned when I found unauthorized charges, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I got this letter. I called the security operations number and asked a few questions. On what basis was it determined that I received benefit from the transaction? Was the purchase made in a store or online? What was purchased? Did they have a copy of my signature for this purchase if in a store and did they have security camera footage we can review? Or, if it was an online purchase, what address was the package delivered to and did they have a signature on the delivery receipt?

After getting my identification information, the gentleman on the phone put me on hold and came back about five minutes later. He told me the purchase was made online and it was a Microsoft Surface Pro notebook computer. He said they had received some additional information that the package might have been delivered somewhere in Texas. I thought, “Goll-lee, shazam, Gomer. Do you think you might want to reconsider your sham investigation and the nasty letter you sent me?”

To end this nightmare story, I had to complete and sign a two-page affidavit and report the crime to my local police department before Best Buy fin\ally agreed to remove the charges (for the second time). In case you are wondering, yes, I canceled the card. You don’t need a credit card for a store you never plan to buy anything from again.

As poorly handled as the above experience was, the real culprit is the thief who stole a notebook computer using my credit. Billions of dollars are lost annually to credit card fraud. Somebody’s got to pay, and that’s all of us.•

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Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send email to gmorris@ibj.com.

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