Credit card fraud

I remember the first credit card I got. I still have an account with the same company. They will let me borrow far more money than I could ever hope to pay back over the next ten years. Because I have been good about paying my bills and have never let my account become overdue, they have extended by credit limit many times. I have resisted the urge to use my credit cards to buy things I can’t pay for. I have found using plastic a really handy way to pay for things like hotel rooms, airline tickets, and online shopping. I even have one card that gives me rewards for spending money.

We have a business credit card which we use for travel expenses, meals, and supplies. It is convenient to pay one bill at the end of the month, have an itemized list of expenses and not have to carry wads of cash.

My wool business also accepts credit cards. Allowing our customers to pay with their little plastic cards has increased our sales by more than 20 percent. Having a merchant account, however, has become increasingly expensive. The company we have had a merchant account with for years has begun charging to mail our monthly statement to us. I have yet to figure out how the charges for each transaction are figured. Each type of credit card costs us a different percentage. Recently we were charged a large additional fee to cover the costs of the company’s complying with federal laws. When I add up all the costs to use this company’s services, our increased sales don’t look so profitable.

Using plastic and electronic banking is certainly convenient.

I am always a little uncomfortable when I type my credit card information or my bank account number into my computer. I try to keep my computer virus free and I never give out my credit card number over the phone–not even to the credit card company. I don’t open email attachments I’m not expecting and I’m cautious about subscribing to services which require my credit card.

In spite of my caution, in the last two months one of my credit cards has been restricted twice because of suspicious activity. The credit card company calls me or emails me with a notice that my card is cut off or I try to use it and it is declined. When I call the company, there are “suspicious” charges to my account. These charges have usually originated from some obscure online company. The most recent one was a one dollar charge to the “Church of God in Christ.” Apparently whoever used my card number didn’t get things quite right and the credit card company refused the charge and called me. I do not know how someone got my card information. My card has not been stolen and I have only charged things on supposedly secure web sites. The last time this happened there was a one dollar charge to Napster, a music sharing website, and then another charge to a travel company for airline tickets. I accused my business partner of trying to leave the country, but she denied such a plan.

I’m baffled.I asked the customer service representative (a very polite and efficient person in a cubicle in some other part of the world) what I could do to prevent this from happening again and again. She basically told me to do the things I already do. I guess I should be grateful that they are diligent and question charges that don’t look just right. In the meantime, my credit card is no longer valid until I get the new one in the mail.

It would be easier just to carry cash and do business in person. At least if someone mugs you and takes your roll of bills, you know you’ve been robbed. With this kind of credit card thievery, you might not know you’ve been bilked until you get your next bill.

I’ve been lucky. Neither my cards nor my identity have been stolen. Our checking accounts have not been hacked into (except by my husband’s tractor repair bills) and the credit card company has been helpful and careful.

Maybe cash is still the best way to pay for things. A cash only economy would also keep more business local. Mailing money is almost as risky as giving someone your credit card number.

Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains