The Summer of My Discontent
Banking and Credit Card Fraud
By Nikki Willhite
It always happens to the other person, right? That's what I thought, until this
summer. My finances use to be so simple. Now I find myself jumping through
hoops, trying to get bank and credit card fraud straightened out.
It all started in June with the computer hackers. You heard about it, right?
Well, maybe not, as it was kept quiet for as long as possible. Miss a few nights
of the 6 PM news, and you probably missed it.
One of the major storage facilities in the USA of credit card information was
compromised by computer hackers. They took a lot of Mastercard data, as well as
data from other credit cards and bank account numbers. Just what they took is
still not being disclosed.
This hushup led to a very nasty surprise by some of us. I was hit twice- one
credit card, and also my primary banking account.
The bank account was the biggest surprise. It came as quite a shock to learn
that someone could purchase items on the Internet with nothing but your bank
account number. In my case, my number was used to buy items from a Smoke Shop,
probably because cigarettes are easily turned into cash.
I went into my online Billpay one day and noticed the balance in my account was
not correct. I looked at my transaction history,and saw the fraudulent charge.
Not only do we not smoke, but I have never ordered anything on the Internet with
my banking account number, or even a debit card.
I immediately called the 800 number for my bank. To this day I do not understand
why the girl on the phone was so nonchalant about the erroneous charge. I had to
insist on closing down the account, which was a good thing because they tried to
hit it again after it was closed down.
So began the long process of paperwork. This account had been my primary account
for a couple decades. I had automatic withdrawals and paycheck deposits set up
with this bank. Once the account was closed, I would not be able to access any
money unless I went into my local branch.
Endless forms and paperwork would be coming to the house for my signature. Some
of it would have to be notarized.
I also had all the numbers memorized to my account, and enough checks to last
for many more years. I had been writing checks so long at this bank, I was
approaching check # 10,000, which made them very easy to cash.
I was not a "happy camper". Then to my surprise, after the new box of checks
arrived at my house, (starting at a low number), a charge of $17.25 was posted
to my account for that one box of checks. I was not told I would be charged for
that one box of checks. I could have purchased them at half that price on the
One day when I was at my local branch talking to one of the mangers, I was told
that another one of their customers was also "hit", and also with a charge to
the same Smoke Shop. There was no doubt in my mind that my stolen number was
associated with the June Computer Hacker Fraud. I was being burdened, and my
time taken up by something that was obviously not my fault and to which I had
been given no warning.
The final straw came 6 weeks later. By this time, I was going into my bank and
charge card Internet sites every morning to make sure everything was okay. On
this day, I discovered a charge for $2.00, which was labeled "Bank Call".
My husband had left the day before for the South to handle insurance claims from
Hurricane Dennis. Thankfully he did not have to witness my reaction to seeing
this charge. Yes, $2.00 is not a lot of money, but it was the last straw, the
last "insult to injury". I never call the bank unless there is a problem, and
this, once again, was not my fault.
I have learned to be somewhat aggressive in my old age. I called my bank (the
800 number), and let them know that I was not happy about the charge, and why, I
also told them that I did not appreciate the charge for the new box of checks.
I was put on hold, and when the girl came back to the phone, she told me they
would remove the $2.00 charge, which I expected, but also that she would reverse
the charge for the checks also. One small victory for me- and another lesson in
the value of speaking up.
As far as the credit card, that is still an ongoing investigation that is not
resolved. When I was younger, I was not as wise with my credit cards. Several
times when making a purchase at a department store I was offered a substantial
discount if I opened a credit card with them, I would take advantage of the
offer just to get the discount never use the card again, but fail to close the
I did not realize at the time that too many open charge accounts can lower your
FICO score, costing you more money in the long run because of higher interest
Now that you can access your credit report free online, <www.annualcreditreport.com>
it is an easy matter to see how many open charge accounts you have, and to write
letters to close them. The particular card that was fraudulently used was from
an old account that had been used one time 5 years ago.
We were actually called by that credit company one Saturday morning, to ask if
we had used the card. The charges were obviously suspect. The user didn't have
the security number on the card, or the expiration date.
The credit card company told us they didn't let the charges that were made on
that card go through- YET WE RECEIVED THE BILL FOR THOSE CHARGES, and as much as
we have protested, continue to have to jump through hoops and wait for the
Again, the moral is to close open accounts that you are not using, unless it
will hurt your FICO score. There are a lot of factors that go into your FICO
score, and I am not an expert in that area. In our case, with a long credit
history, it was no problem, and had we closed them, we would have had less
exposure and avoided the whole mess.
Take from this article what you will. I use to think nothing would ever happen
to me. I was so careful. I attached my purse to my arm with Velcro when I left
the house! I shredded documents, and didn't even use my debit card. I never put
outgoing mail at the curb. I thought I was safe.
Now I know anything is possible, even identity theft. I still do most of my
shopping on the Internet, as I find it cheaper and more convenient- and believe,
as does Suze Orman, that it is more dangerous to use your charge card in public,
where people can see your signature and what you look like, than to use them on
a secure Internet site.
However, I now take things like identity theft more seriously, and can only
imagine what a nightmare that would be. I am leary of giving checks to people I
don't know. For instance, I would never buy anything now on Ebay with a check. I
will only use Paypal.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Be vigilant, use your credits wisely, and
speak up so that people or institutions do not take advantage of you.