Last Wednesday I logged into my bank account online to check a balance. As I looked at it my eyes went to my visa. I then looked at it again. And then one more time. My Visa had a balance of about $3600, which was about $3400 more than it should have been. I looked at the transaction summary, and saw a large list of purchases that I hadn't made. It has been a while since I felt my stomach drop like that, but something I never thought would happen to me happened, my credit card number was stolen.
Looking at those transactions over and over again was a really helpless feeling. It was a pretty long list of things I had never purchased. I knew that I had to call my bank, but it just really took a second to process the fact that I had almost $3500 in charges on my card. I wasn't quite speechless, but the words I had are not what I would call family friendly. Looking back it is actually hard to remember exactly what I felt that morning, as it was kind of a blur. I've never had something like this happen to me before, and the feeling was almost surreal. A week later it is still hard to believe. Sounds cliche, but I never thought this would ever happen to me.
Long story short I called my bank, after the first person I talked to realized that this wasn't one or two transactions, I was transferred to the Visa security area and went through a few things with that person. The charges were flagged, my card and number were cancelled, and a new card with a new number were put in the mail to me. I was initially told it would take 3-4 weeks for the charges to be reversed, but they were all reversed 2 days later, much to my relief. I wasn't super worried, since pretty much every credit card is insured against fraud now (though I HIGHLY recommend you check yours if you aren't sure). But it was still a scary few days. This wasn't even money stolen from me, this was someone basically spending money in my name, which is something that was hard to wrap my head around.
Since all of the charges were reversed I can now laugh about the purchases, which I happen to have taken a screen grab of. This is no way means I condone what these people did, but man, did they ever have a good 2 days at the expense of insurance. Hopefully they get caught, because this is amazing.
So, lets see, a $200 sushi dinner, a $400 tab at Hudson's and $300 at the Sunterra market. A total of about $1600, likely in power tools at Home Depot and Rona, a few trips to a gas station to fill up the trucks that were holding the power tools and Sunterra products. Oh, and $4 in parking. That one seriously makes me chuckle. They spent $950 in one trip at home depot on my card, but then also $4 on parking….sure, why not.
Now, the attention turns to exactly how this happened. The reality is that I'll never really know, but one thing I'm sure of is that the card had to have been skimmed locally. Since all of the charges are local (the Sunterra one, even though it says calgary, is still a local purchase, Sunterra just reads that way) there isn't anything else it could be. The odds of my card number being stolen online and then all of the fraudulent charges being where I live are astronomical. Where could this have been? Again, who knows. Since the card has been cancelled I can say that it was a new card issued in November of 2011, which means that it could have been skimmed at any time between early November and early February. I put a lot of my Christmas shopping on my Visa this year, just because I did most of my shopping in 2 big spurts and I have a limit on how much I can spend on my debit card every day (ironically to combat if that card ever gets compromised), and I didn't want to run into that while doing my shopping. I used it one night to start a bar tab when I was out, even though we didn't use the card to pay for anything in the end, and I also use it at gas stations when I have to pay at the pump. It could have been at any of those places. I've also been told that it is very common for the thieves to sit on the numbers they have stolen for a few months after getting them. They then either use them or sell them slowly to try to keep it as low profile as possible, which is likely what happened to me.
One thing that this has really opened my eyes to is how much i rely on my credit card. Not that I'm swimming in debt and am living on my card, but there are so many things that I do use it for on a regular basis without even thinking about it. I do buy a lot of things online, which obviously uses my credit card in most situations. I have a few things that charge my credit card on a monthly basis (Netflix, Star Wars: The Old Republic, etc), and i purchase music through iTunes using my credit card. But oddly the one thing where I notice it the most is with my phone. With my Galaxy Nexus running Android, I cannot buy apps or anything using an in-app purchase at all. Again, it's not like I was spending a ton of money there, but I went to buy a 99 cent game to play around with, and realized I couldn't because my card was no longer valid. There are just so many little things that it gets used for that without it I actually cannot do many of the things I do on a regular basis. I know of a few people who don't like credit cards, and even some people who do not have a credit card, and don't know how they can actually live without having one. This doesn't apply just to online purchases either. Renting a car, staying in a hotel, basically anything you want to do when travelling needs a credit card, and I can't begin to imagine not having one.
This has identified a real need that I have to address. What would have happened had this occurred while I was travelling? What if I lost access to my credit when I really needed it? I know a few people who have a second credit card that they only use for online purchases, and while Im' not going to go quite that far I think what I need to do is get a second credit card with a lower limit that I can keep as a "just in case" situation. I don't need another card to rack up a lot of charges on, but this has really shown me that I depend on access to credit enough that I really should have a backup option, in case this ever happens again. That is something that I'm going to look into, and something that, after this situation I have gone through, I would recommend to pretty much everyone. Having that backup plan is more important than I thought.
The last thing I want to just mention is how ironic this is. To this day there are still many people who are afraid of online shopping because they are afraid of using their credit card online. They are afraid that someone could steal their number and use it. I've always been someone trying to clear the fear on that, as online credit card transactions are among the most safe and secure things someone can do on the internet these days. There is no company that wants to have to tell the world that they have had their users' credit card information stolen. Sony had to do it on 2011 and it was a nightmare for them, and really damaged them as a company. Companies spend more money that most people realize to ensure that online shopping is among the safest things on the internet, and I have almost no fear of giving my credit card to a reputable company for a transaction.
For all the shopping I do online, my card was stolen the old fashioned way, the magnetic stripe was skimmed. This is something that could happen to someone who has never used a computer in their life. Really, when you sit down and think about it, I really think that shopping online is actually safer than giving your credit card to a waiter or waitress in a restaurant, or swiping it in some machine at a gas station. I have no idea where my card goes when a waitress takes it at a restaurant, nor do I know who has touched or tampered with the machine at a gas station. For everyone who has told me that online shopping is dangerous, and that they will never do it, I can simply point them to the time when I had my number stolen, without the help of the internet. It doesn't make me feel good about the situation, but the sense of irony is certainly not lost on me.