Saturday, September 08, 2007

I Feel Like I'm Being Watched

This sounds like an odd title, but after reading this you'll understand what I mean. For quite some time, I have been the one in our family to handle the bookkeeping -- paying the monthly bills, writing the checks, and reconciling the accounts. I'm so careful about it that I will sometimes check our accounts two or three times a week just to make sure things are in line.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened one account this week and saw a weird charge for less than $5. It didn't ring a bell, but at first I didn't panic; lots of times, if we stop at a service station to pick up a snack during a drive, it shows up on the account with an unusual title. However, having just been the victim of credit card fraud earlier this week (different account) and earlier this year (another account), I got really nervous and immediately jumped on the phone with my bank.

After about an hour on the phone with them last night, along with the company to whom payment had been made, it turned out that yes, in fact, I had been frauded. And when I opened the account this morning, there were several more charges posted or pending that weren't mine. Another 45 minutes on the phone with my bank, and a full fraud investigation has been opened, my old account has been locked and a new one has been opened, and I'm breathing a lot easier (at least for now).

I can't think of any times in my life where I've felt more vulnerable than when I feel like someone is watching me and (in a manner of speaking) rifling through my wallet, and I end up getting bitten at the end of things. I think it's absolutely pathetic that there's some (pardon my language) son-of-a-bitch out there who gets his (or her; can't be sexist about this) jollies by scamming and stealing and loading up on crap for their house or apartment while I (or anyone else who falls victim to this) am sitting at home or work desperately trying to stop the hemmorhaging and get things corrected. If it were up to me, folks that commit credit card fraud should be locked up for life -- none of this lightweight garbage in the way of sentences that's handed out.

A side effect of this is that I'm less inclined to want to help anyone, with the thought in the back of my mind always being, "What are you trying to do?" When this has happened in the past, and then I'm approached about making a donation or get a solicitation letter in the mail, I walk in the opposite direction or throw the letter unopened into the garbage. Yes, I realize I could send a check for these sorts of things, but going through this really makes me gun-shy.

And the check writing thing brings another angle into this. So many companies have gone out of their way over the years to make it possible to pay bills on-line. I've taken advantage of that, both for the ease of it all and because the turnaround time for processing the payment is much more immediate. Now, though, who the hell wants to do that anymore? Checks may be the only safe route anymore (if that can be believed), and I'm thinking I may just start hand-carrying my payments to everyone. I know that's not feasible, but it's worth dreaming -- can you imagine how some of these folks in other states would look at me if I walked in and said, "Good morning; I drove overnight from the East Coast to drop off my payment. See you next month!"

Let this be a warning to you: you're never really safe, even with all of the gizmos and security features that people develop every day. Somewhere, there's someon fast than they are at developing ways to beat them -- and when they're not doing that, then they're watching me and rifling through my wallet.


Sandie said...

Wow, if that happened to me once I would be upset, but three times in such a short period, I would be livid and seriously hounding the police to find them. It almost seems like it could be the same person. I hope they find them and give you a feeling of closure.

Robert said...

I share your point of view on this nova. I went to california a few years ago, drove from here in Portland, first time going back since leaving in 92. I stayed overnight in Sacramento. By the time i had reached huntington beach the next day and tried to check into my hotel my account was locked due to suspicious activity. i found out someone had to have gotten my account info at a gas station i had used on the way,only place i used my card at other than the motel in sacramento. GRRRRRRRR i had no real cash cuz i planned to use my cc for most stuff. Just thought i would share and empathize. Btw, your daughter has a cool cool blog and she was a Laker fan to boot cant beat that lol

Kansas Bob said...

Wow Matt ... sorry that this happened ... it is getting scary out there :(

rdl said...

wow now u got me all paranoid since i'm not the best at reconciling anything. I keep the receipts for chking acct. and credit card account - tho there are always some missing, and i just figure i must've made those charges- who can remember a month later?

Sarah R. said...

Sorry, Matthew! Hate to make it worse, but even check-writing isn't considered 100% safe anymore, as people can wash the ink off of checks and write in whatever they want. (Or so I've heard)
Oh, and Robert, I'm Matthew's sister, not daughter. Don't let his gray hair fool you! :)

Kristen said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you! I can understand how angry and frustrated you are. One day, someone charged $2,500 worth of stuff at Best Buy to my credit card. Apparently, you can call a Best Buy store, buy stuff on a card, and then just show up to pick it up - without identification! I was livid. Your post made me check my credit reports though, which I hadn't done yet this year. So thanks for the unfortunate reminder. :-(

Dan said...

I had this happen to me, too. Now I log on and check my bank accounts every day and my credit card account every 2-3 days. It may sound a bit anal-retentive, but it's better to stop it quickly when does happen.

On the other end of this, though, my credit card with Chase gives me safety headaches sometimes. Every year (at least once or twice) we go to Winter Park, Colorado to ski. Each year we pay for everything on the credit card while we're traveling. Gas, food, lodging... Well each year we go to the same grocery store on our first night. Each year my credit card declines. Each time I call Chase to discover they have suspended the account because of my out-of-state purchases for gas, etc... They quickly unlock it, but its an embarrassing hassle at the grocery store. This last year I thought I'd be smart and call them ahead of time to tell them where I was going and what purchases I would be making. It happened anyway! At least it's safe, I guess.

Sorry to hear about your troubles.

Nancy said...

Hasn't happened to me yet, but I imagine it is just a Matter Of Time.

Dad said...

One thing you might consider: the only information on my check is my name (and of course the account number and tracking number for the account), no address, no phone number, just the name.

Lots of local companies don't like that - for some reason they want (demand) an address. When they ask for my address (if and when I EVER write a local check), the cringe when I give a post office box number. "We need a physical address, not a post office box." (I wonder why, since they aren't coming to look for me - or are they?)

I usually smile and tell them, "It's a really big box at the post office!"

So... instead of writing local checks, I use my credit card. Of course, then the local yokels want to know if I want to have one of THEIR credit cards! As if that would make a difference? The only checks I write are to utilities and credit card companies - and they don't really care what your address is as long as they get your money.

I'm not saying my way is foolproof, though. I also have a credit protection arrangement with the credit card company, just to be on the safe side (more or less). Other things to remember: shred your old bills (unless you keep them for years like I do); make sure your mail is placed into a USPS mailbox and NOT the one by your door or sidewalk (too many people can "snatch" that away far too quickly!); if packages are delivered to your home, request the delivery be made when someone will be there to SIGN for it!

So as the sergeant used to say on "Hill Street Blues," "Be careful out there!"

Patchouli said...

Been there more than once and I am just as outraged as you are. When someone asks me for money, I offer to walk to a drive-thru (food) gas station(gas), or pharmacy(prescription)and purchase the need. Without fail, my offer is refused.

ipanema said...

Nothing is safe online, Matt. I read sometimes ago that hackers are going more advance.

Today, I was reading BBC and on its Tech News was about the 'white hackers' yearly gatherings. They mentioned some things that I never thought could be more harmful than of help...CCTV could be monitored by anyone, bluetooth would not only be sharing a file you wanted to have, but in the process, you get access to the other person's phone. It is scary!