There are very few of us these days who have not been directly impacted by some type of fraud. Recently, I was the victim of credit card fraud—but I learned about it while I was six miles above the earth.
I was traveling on an airplane that had Wi-Fi capability, so I had access to my email account while flying. Have you ever had Wi-Fi access in an airplane? If you have, then you’re familiar with the “lightning-fast” speeds the airplane Wi-Fi offers, typically measured in download speeds of megabytes per century.
I was in the process of reviewing my emails on the airplane, at a painfully slow rate, when I saw an email whose subject line stood out above the others: “FRAUD ALERT!”
Click…nothing…click…nothing…nothing…blank page. Now at least I was making some progress. A few minutes later, the contents of the email came up on my screen and I learned that someone was trying to use my credit card in New Jersey.
So, here was the situation: I was 33,000 feet above the state of New Mexico. Someone was trying to use my credit card in three different retail establishments in New Jersey. The problem with that scenario was that the credit card that they were trying to use was in my pocket. So how were these transactions possible?
They were possible because the crooks didn’t have my physical card. They had made a duplicate of my card, which is also known as “cloning” a credit card.
How did they get the information to clone my card? I don’t know, and the truth is, sometimes you never know how crooks get your information to commit credit card fraud or other crimes like identity theft.
The important part of the story is that the charges were declined. This was a simple case of credit card fraud, with no real long-term consequences for me. The credit card company recognized that the attempted charges may have been fraudulent, so they declined them all. But even if the charges had gone through, I would not have been liable for the money; the credit card company would have eaten that cost. I simply received a new credit card with a new sixteen-digit number and security code in the mail two days later. Besides changing some monthly auto payments that were automatically deducted from the original credit card, nothing else really needed to be done.
Now, to be clear, we all pay the cost of fraud collectively, as its cost gets passed on to us as consumers. But in this case, no money was taken out of my pocket. It was just a small hassle that left me idly wondering how the crooks got my credit card number to begin with. I didn’t worry about it for long, though, because this was a minor case of fraud, as compared to identity theft.
Credit card fraud is often confused with identity theft, but these are two very different things and it is very important to understand the distinction
Here are some tips to prevent credit card fraud:
Make a copy or write down all the information on the front and back of all the credit cards you carry. If your purse or wallet is lost or stolen you will know what is at risk and can contact the credit card companies to stop all charges.
Set alerts with your credit card company that notifies you by text message if there is a charge to your card over a threshold amount. You determine the threshold.
Review your credit card statements carefully and report any fraud as soon as possible.