OPINION: Gord Turner warns of credit fraudsters

Castlegar columnist shares recent fraud experience

I guess having your wallet lifted from your pocket doesn’t qualify as a scam. But the event is absolutely deflating to the traveler involved — and especially at Christmas. The scam I have in mind, however, is a different attempt at “wallet lifting.”

It happened a few weeks ago, and it involved a particular credit card. We always have at least two or three credit cards when travelling because occasionally purchases won’t clear or there’s no access for a particular card.

At this time of year, I often use my American Express card for small purchases — drinks at a bar, dinner for two, snacks at convenience stores, and similar items. Upon returning from a trip recently, I checked my Amex online and saw that I’d made about $272 worth of these smaller purchases.

When I checked my emails, I found an alert from Amex that someone had tried to withdraw cash from my credit card. The company asked if it had been me, and if so, they would change the account so I could receive cash. If it was someone else, the company wanted to discuss the issue with me. I phoned American Express immediately.

I did not request cash released from that credit card. I have decided that when we travel I will use that card for most of our smaller purchases, and then I’ll never have to worry that someone will be able to access my money.

This system I accidentally happened upon is not perfect. The card can still be used by others for goods if they see my PIN or I’m too lax in letting it out of my sight while paying for lunch or dinner. Beyond that, whether we’re travellers or not, I think each of us should own a credit card that doesn’t allow cash release. It’s easy to go online or send a note to the card company and set this feature up.

The other scam happened to me just before Christmas a couple of years ago and has to do with all the letters one gets to donate to charity campaigns in December before the taxation year is finished. One of the procedures to do so requires snipping off the final tear-away part of the letter.

On this tearaway sheet, the charity is asking which credit card you wish to use. It wants your exact credit card number. It requests the expiry date of the card. It asks for a signature, a phone number and an email address. Then as a good consumer, you fill in the sender’s address on the outside of the reply envelope. If this “loaded with information” letter gets lost along the way or somehow gets into the hands of scammers, it might be a while before you figure out something is wrong.

In my scam instance, a new exact credit card was created, and though the address I sent the information to was Ottawa, the credit card purchases happened in Toronto at locations my card company was monitoring. The company shut the use of the card down, and when I went to use that card for Christmas purchases, I discovered it was no longer valid.

It took a long time to get things back to normal, and required telephone calls from security personnel, fraud experts, and two or three credit bureaus. I have learned never to send my credit card numbers to charities on these forms. Once burned, twice shy, as the saying goes.

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