Credit Card Fraud May Be A Sign of ID Theft

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Some banks and credit card companies will give you a call when suspicious charges appear on your card.  While this seems like a useful service that keeps you informed of when someone else is using your account without your permission, you can rest assured that the credit card provider isn't simply looking out for your best interest. Credit cards are big business for the banks that issue them, and by keeping an eye on unauthorized use they're simply trying to reduce their own liability and keep their financial losses to a minimum. That's understandable. But what's not so understandable is their unwillingness to help us do the same. 

Case in point, a recent story highlighted a small-town Kentucky couple who recently fell victim to credit card fraud.  Over the course of two days they had $1700 charged at Walmart to two of their credit cards and received a call from the bank that held both accounts.  Trying to find out more information to get a better idea of where the charges occurred, and what else may be in store for them, all that the bank rep on the other end of the phone would say is that the charges were from the United States.  Not a big help. They couldn't even find out whether the charges came from or from a physical store, even though the two appear differently on credit card statements; the bank rep claimed she didn't have access to that sort of information.

That's not exactly what you want to hear after learning your accounts have been accessed -but it's a common frustration victims of credit card fraud face when simply trying to put the pieces together in hopes the details would help head off any other unpleasant surprises. What may initially appear as credit card fraud, may turn out to be a sign that bigger problems are on the horizon. I can say this with certainty--because it happened to me.  

It's jarring to learn your account -or world -has been accessed and then taken over by an intruder.  As your mind begins to wrap around this unnerving news, reality begins to set in -along with a litany of questions like; was your credit card number stolen online, hacked in a data breach, or lifted while you were out shopping or on vacation?  What other information do these strangers have? As unanswered questions give way to dread; you realize your left without access to your credit card while new cards are being issued, and you no longer know whether it's safe to use those cards online or not -because you now have the nagging fear that your computer may somehow have been compromised. More questions arise...should you change passwords? Close online accounts? Close bank accounts? Notify friends and family? Contact other creditors? How can you know?  Imagine all of that insecurity, fear and doubt - much of which could have been easily alleviated if the bank rep would have answered a few simple questions.

Arguably, if a credit card company was working in your best interest then they would answer your questions and provide you with the pertinent details on the fraudulent charges made to your account. Instead, though, many appear to tell you the absolute minimum that they can get away with, often requiring a subpoena from law enforcement before they release records necessary to investigate the fraud and limit the risk of other occurrences. 

If someone, somewhere, somehow used your credit card account info to commit credit card fraud, you can't be certain that's the only sinister activity they're up to.

This is why it's important that you report the theft of your credit cards or any fraudulent charges that you receive to the police as soon as possible.  Your police department will advise you on what steps need to be taken to get a court order, if necessary, to access credit card records to investigate the incident.  When documenting credit card fraud, always jot down the date, time and name of the account rep you talk to; include this info in a written police report that you then forward on to the creditor, credit reporting bureaus, and keep readily available to prove your innocence should another incident arise.  This is necessary because internal investigations by your credit card company are focused toward determining whether the charges are legitimate or not so they know whether they have to reimburse you for the fraudulent charges.  They are not focused on limiting your exposure to future occurrences -unless of course, it exposes them to further liability.

If you believe you are a victim of fraud, take steps to lighten the impact. For more tips on protecting your credit and debit cards from fraud see an earlier blog here

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