Mike Rosinski, 51, doesn’t really know how a string of fraudulent charges ranging from as little as $3.19 for some odd outfit in Missouri to $434.10 at a Fry’s Electronics in another state ended up hitting his Visa credit card in mid-April.
Maybe, he speculated that it was when a parking lot attendant took his credit card, claimed it wasn’t going through and then said he could park for free? Maybe it was somehow related to getting hacked in the Target incident late in 2013, but that seems doubtful, as he was already issued a new card after that one.
Either way, Rosinski, who lives in Hartland, Mich., says he thinks consumers really need to pay attention to their statements and charges. He checks his balances regularly, but his wife got an automated call from the card issuer about the suspect activity. He followed up directly with the card issuer, who yes, is going to send him yet another new credit card number.
Like many consumers who just don’t want to deal with any more of the hassles of getting a new card number, Rosinski just wishes more could be done to stop the crooks before they make those charges. Sure, he’s pleased that the issuer had a system to spot the fraud quickly, but what about some added security to put a stop to the hacking?
Are we seeing more fraud charges, or are we simply more aware that fraudsters are working overtime to get our credit card or debit card information? It could be a little bit of both, experts say. Fraud might be on the rise in part lately because there have been so many significant security breaches, said Adam Levin, chairman and cofounder of Identity Theft 911.
A security breach took place at Michaels Stores and its subsidiary Aaron Brothers. The breach occurred between May 8, 2013, and Jan. 27, 2014, at Michaels Stores and may have hit 2.6 million consumers or 7 percent of transactions during that time. At Aaron Brothers, the breach took place between June 26, 2013, and Feb. 27, 2014, and may have hit 400,000 consumers.
Industry experts say there are many ways someone’s card information can be compromised — ranging from a rogue employee using a skimming device, to a consumer responding to phishing emails, to malware installed at a point-of-sale system at a store. Cyber-attacks can be very sophisticated and criminals often are out of the country.
Some other scams involve what’s known as “micropayment fraud schemes” that charge your card repeatedly for small amounts for rogue Internet pharmacies, fake anti-virus software, jewelry or handbag buying clubs, and online gambling.
The breaches have spurred a push for anti-fraud technology and expanded use of microchip cards that offer more security than magnetic stripes. Target said that next year it will issue chip-and-pin cards for its Redcard branded credit and debit cards.
Right now, though, the flurry of breaches and anecdotal information on fraudulent charges should make everyone more cautious and more willing to spend time going online daily or weekly to track charges on an account.
“The most important action a consumer can do is monitor their account closely,” said Teresa Thornton, senior vice president and director of fraud services for Comerica Bank.
One relative, who does read his bills, told me about a $49.77 charge that was made on his account in Mexico in April. Was it connected, perhaps, to another scam a month earlier when he spotted a fraudulent $11.18 charge from a so-called “BLS WebLearn” on his credit card statement?
My husband’s uncle immediately alerted his credit card issuer about the $11.18 charge and he was told not to pay it. But a new card wasn’t issued right then. Maybe one should have been to prevent the later fraud charges. Sometimes the fraudsters start out with small charges to check if a number is “live” and can be used to make bigger purchases. Or the con artists keep making more fake small charges just to keep the scam going.
The watchdog site called Krebs on Security reported on the BLS scam in late March. A new rash of bogus charges for odd amounts, such as $10.37 or $12.96, were being reported by consumers. The charge could also reference PLI Weblearn.
Brain Krebs, author of Krebs on Security, has advised consumers to report such fraud immediately to the card issuer. He said it’s also a good idea to request a new card even if the bank doesn’t suggest a new card on the spot. After all, if someone has your card number, odds are good that more fraud charges, big or small, could continue.
Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert and author of “Confessions of a Credit Junkie,” said consumers should not just wait for statements. They should also track their card activity online or through mobile banking as often as they can. By law, credit card victims can only be responsible for up to $50 but many card issuers have zero liability in the event of fraud.
Banks also offer mobile alerts that consumers can set up to alert them to specific types of account activity, including debit card transactions.
Granted, it can be a hassle to actually switch credit card numbers, especially if you have the electric bill or the gym membership automatically deducted from your credit card account. When the number changes, you must alert the company that’s taking an automatic payment so you aren’t hit with extra late fees or charges for missed payments.
Even so, Levin said some consumers might want to request a card number change if they spot more than one or two fraud charges.
“It never hurts to be proactive and even a little paranoid,” Levin said.
BE WATCHFUL FOR SCAMS:
—Watch those statements and e-mails to avoid fraud and high charges.
—Be on the lookout for phishing scams, too. Scammers could pose as people trying to alert you of a scam and get you off guard to give out more information.
—At times, consumers can unknowingly sign up for gray charges that are legal but costly. You might sign up for one service and not realize you’re also agreeing to pay for another product, too. Or you might sign up for a free trial period but then get charged a fee quickly. Pay attention to the rules of any program and read your statements to cancel unwanted services quickly.
—Take advantage of free credit-monitoring services that are offered by various retailers hit by security breaches, including Michaels Stores.
SOURCE: Detroit Free Press research
ABOUT THE WRITER
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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