This is a friendly PSA from someone who’s had his fair share of credit card fraud over the last several years. As a lifelong saver, there was a time I could tell you the balance in my checking and savings accounts right down to the penny. However, in the last year or so, I’ve become lazy — just eye-balling the various balances and think that “seems right.” My lackadaisical approach has largely been driven by the various alerts set on my accounts. I was lulled into thinking I was safe. I was not.
By chance, I reviewed one of my accounts closely this week and noticed numerous small charges I did not recognize. Initially, I started racking my brain, thinking, “Did I make that charge?”
My saving grace were the transactions for Lyft rides. I have never used Lyft. That’s when I knew my debit card had been compromised. All of those questionable charges now became clear: Someone was using my card for small purchases — all under $20.
The common belief is that the thief will use your credit/debit card quickly and for large purchases, before the alarm bells go off and the account is closed. For me, the card was compromised starting over the summer for a small purchase here and there.
Nothing too big and not more than one or two in a day — even weeks between charges. (In total, the fraudulent charges totaled more than $300 in four months. My balance never dropped significantly, so I was never shocked into taking any action.)
In talking with the credit card company’s fraud department, the representative told me that this was starting to be the trend for thieves — many small purchases over time that would easily be overlooked. (If I had used Lyft with any regularity, the fraudulent charges would have easily blended in with true transactions. There’s a good chance I would not have second-guessed any of the charges.) It seems many people do not go through their monthly statement with an eagle-eye and thieves are counting on it.
After several cases of credit card fraud, I set notifications on all of my accounts. I believed I was finally safe and could quickly shut down any account — after receiving a text about “my purchase” of $300 at a gas station in Orlando, Florida. (One of my accounts was drained of nearly $3,000 because of this example. The card was used for several large gas station purchases in different cities within hours. It was a nightmare resolving the case. In the end, I never received all of my money back, after months of paperwork and phone calls.)
As a result, I have became less obsessed with reviewing my credit card statements, trusting the security system in place would save me from more fraud. The problem is that all of my alerts are set for a fairly high amount (at least, for my budget) of $50. None of the fraudulent charges from the last several months met that threshold, so I never received any notifications.
There’s a good chance these charges could have continued for months or years because there were so inconsequential. I’m just perplexed because the card has never left my possession and no one has access to it. I can only assume my account was accessed through an online purchase or somehow taken when I swiped it at the store.
If it hasn’t happened to you, I hope it doesn’t — it’s very frustrating, time-consuming and, on some level, just creepy that someone has your financial information. It makes you wonder what other personal information they may have.
It’s even more troublesome because many businesses often appear under a different name on a billing statement, making it difficult to decipher fraudulent activity. Because they’re small charges, you’re likely to assume you must have made the transaction for “ABC Company.” After all, who’s going to use a stolen credit card for a $5 purchase, right?
If you haven’t sat down and reviewed your credit card statement lately, you may want to do so. Any small charges you don’t recall making just might open Pandora’s Box.
Have you ever experienced credit card fraud? (My guess is YES!) Do you have any tips or suggestions for dealing with it?
I look forward to our next chat. Remember, there’s always a discount. You just need to look for it. :-)