Saturday, February 6, 2010

How Secure Are You?

Some weeks ago, while teaching in California, I tried to use a credit card.

And couldn't.

This isn't unusual -- not because we don't pay our bills (we do) -- but because the VISA card company has an interesting habit of denying any charges out of state. When your job often takes you on the road, like mine, that makes for a problem at times. My favorite was buying some $250 of fabric at a shop in North Carolina, having the card repeatedly denied, and being told they didn't take Discover! I lucked out -- they DID take my check. (Although would you hesitate, after the customer's standing there with a red face, saying she's got the money??)

I figured this was a repeat of the North Carolina Incident, and called the credit card company. They noted it on my account, then said there shouldn't be a problem.

Until, with nearly $200 in fabric sitting on the counter, I got my card denied. Again. The only thing saving me from total humiliation was that the clerk said she'd heard me calling the credit card company when I first got in the shop. They didn't take a check -- they didn't take Discover -- but thank God, I'd done the lecture, had sold some things, and had cash. Whew.

Turns out all was NOT well -- what the VISA rep did NOT tell me was that someone at the Phoenix airport the night before not only had copied my number, but they were ordering all sorts of interesting things from Google personals and elsewhere! The final kicker: the charges included Christian-themed t-shirts from a mail order site. Ergh.

The good news: VISA didn't hold me responsible. The bad news: I was caught in California with only one credit card (that not everyone takes) and a little cash. I made it home ok, but learned several lessons:
     *Call the credit card company when you're taking an out-of-state trip. No matter what.
     *Keep some kind of backup payment ready -- an extra check in your wallet, a spare $50, something.
     *Are your account numbers where you can access them quickly? (And I don't mean on a paper scribbled in your wallet, either.)

At least VISA keeps track of their customers' spending patterns, and calls when something's unusual. (I just wish they would have called sooner.) A bit freaky to deal with, but it sure saved my bacon on this trip.

I was lucky. The thieves only got one credit-card number. What if they'd stolen my wallet? It happened to this guy -- see what he did. (Go to the Nov. 29 post. Other good advice is here and here, too. This posting is helpful and thorough.)  He suggests adding the following four phone numbers to your contact info...they would have helped in my situation, too:

Equifax   800-525-6285        
Experian 888-397-3742
TransUnion  800-680-7289
Social Security (Fraud Dept)  800-269-0271

The first three are credit reporting companies; the fourth comes in handy for thieves who try to change your contact info to theirs. Take a minute and write these down -- they could save your bacon, too!

I only made one charge at the Phoenix airport: a Burger King. One of the teenaged employees there must have swiped my credit card info. (The purchases suggested a kid, too.) Hopefully their snide little behind ended up IN JAIL.

* * * * * *
On that cheerful note, it seemed only proper to enjoy some cat yodeling, and a very funny "Mean Kitty" song. Plus one of the most luxurious ballads ever: "At Last," courtesy of Etta James. (Eat your heart out, Beyonce.) It can be a nasty, flu-filled world...thank God for these wonderful reminders that Good Stuff is still out there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ooh so sorry this happened to you!


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