"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Monday, August 06, 2012

"... potentially suspicious activity ..."

Capital One Fraud Protection Alert

RE: Account ending in ****


We recently noticed potentially suspicious activity on your MASTERCARD PLATINUM account ending in ****, and need to confirm that you authorized all of these charges. Please call Customer Fraud Protection as soon as possible at 800-***-****.

Got that email, yesterday evening, and almost forwarded it to Cap One's abuse address as a possible phishing attempt.

Before doing that, I went online to check my account, and found it restricted.

A look at pending charges revealed $12.77 for a gasoline purchase ( $12.77 would barely fill an outboard motor; then I later thought motorcycle) and $25+ for a meal at some diner I never visited (biker and his girlfriend?)

Still a bit paranoid about calling a number from an email (although I later found it to be legitimate), I called a customer service number from one of my statements, and was routed directly (after a 15-20 minute wait) to a Fraud Protection rep (probably triggered by the phone number from which I called).

I verified with that rep which of the transactions were legitimate or not. The current card (and number) have been cancelled, and a new card and number should arrive in 5 or 6 business days.

I had this happen with another MasterCard, issued by Sears, which was declined on a purchase in February.  A call to its customer service disclosed that someone had tried to purchase a $400+ item in Walmart's Electronics section (flat-screen TV?). That card and number was also cancelled and replaced.

I didn't think too much on it last time, figuring it was just one of those things, had been dealt with and things were probably Ok.

Nor am I going to go into blind paranoia this time.

To put things in perspective, I've had and used various Visa and MasterCard credit cards for over 30 years now, and have only been hit twice in all that time.

But, this last time started me thinking about how this could have happened.

I dug out my statements several months prior to each of the incidents and found something in common.

Most of my charges were for something I paid for by handing my card to a cashier and watching while he processed it. But, common to each set of statements were visits to a restaurant I really like, where (typical for restaurants) I pay by handing the card to the server who then takes it and goes off somewhere else to process the transaction, returning my card a few minutes later.

While there are other ways in which my credit card info could wind up in the wrong hands, I believe that Occam's Razor would suggest that the server is getting that information from my card and selling it to someone making fake cards.

This morning, I called that Fraud Protection number, talked to one of their investigators and passed on my suspicion about that restaurant (which I will still frequent; they have the best Mexican food in Houston).

I doubt that I told him anything which hadn't already occurred to him, but nailing down which merchant handles a card in that particular way, and its commonality with the other MasterCard incident may have been useful (I hope).

Frustrating thing in a case like this is that, with the way bureaucracy works, I'll quite likely never learn if my deductions were correct, or just a waste of an investigator's time.

I do have an ego (meaning I'm full of myself :-);  if I've cleverly managed to figure something out, I'd really love confirmation.

("Get used to disappointment." ~ Westley, in "The Princess Bride")

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Read. Agreed. Handing your credit card to anyone no matter how reputable the establishment is never a good idea. If the riff raff didn't look good enough to be employed at a nice place they would be selling pencils on the corner instead.


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