Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Frightening and Important Lesson

I had an identify theft scare this week that really put me on my toes. As it turns out, it was just a scare, with a little card # theft for dessert.

As has been my lot of late, I was in Georgia on business for the week. On Wednesday morning, when I went online to balance my account (if you've read my book you know I do that every day), I noticed an unusual charge. It was for $29.95. The amount was innocuous enough, but I didn't recognize it nor the company name associated with it. The name sounded like a Sports Bar or an online betting name, so I decided to google it. Turns out, it was a porn company. Needless to say, I immediately contacted the bank and got the charge removed. I canceled my debit card and ordered a new one.

A few things about the incident really jumped out at me that I want to pass on. First, my experience shows that things like this can happen to anyone. That's why it's important to check your accounts regularly and to check your credit report annually. It's free, so there's no excuse. Secondly, I was surprised at the stereotypical nature of the fraudulent charge. The person used my card number to order PORN. How very unimaginative!

The third item of note, was how unsurprised the customer service agent was when I told her my story. I was, like, out of my mind with panic and outrage. I was afraid charges were going to start popping up like dandelions in the Spring. But the dear lady said, "Don't worry, it happens all the time." All the time? Holy Smokes!

Debit cards are convenient and useful. But they have their risks. Cards can be lost or stolen. Numbers can be retrieved from trash cans and computers. It is critical that we pay attention to where and how we use our cards and how we dispose of receipts. Remember to do computer virus and spyware scans regularly, as well.

In the end, I only had the one charge come through and I caught it within a few hours of the charge, while it was still a pending transaction so no real harm was done, other than to my adrenal system. Be warned. Be vigilant. Be prepared.