Fraud can be an early morning felon

The phone call came at 6:10. In the morning.

I know there are people who are awake and have begun their day by 6:00 a.m., but I am not one of them. I especially didn’t like hearing the voice that was on the other end of the receiver last Friday.

“This is the fraud department at Barclay’s Bank Mastercard. Is this Marcia O’Brien?” Oh, rats. Victimized? Again? And is it really the fraud department? I was waking up faster than I wanted. My red flags began flapping.

“Yes, this is she.” I mumbled, trying to come to. It was one of those sleepless nights and I had hoped to snuggle in until an 8 o’clock wakeup.

The fraud specialist on the other end of the phone was the real deal. My card had been compromised the night before for the paltry sum of $15.95. I don’t know what triggered the alert, but I was glad the bank was on top of it.

What I hate about this annoying scene – which has happened to me a half dozen times – is having to redo the information everywhere the card is on file. I guess it’s a small price to pay for security. I’m an experienced victim.

The first time I had to clean up after a credit theft was a little different. Decades ago, it actually involved the physical cards. I was seated at a New York City lunch counter, inhaling a sandwich, fending off the midday nausea of pregnancy. Because there was no room between the expanded me and the counter, I had no lap to hold my purse. I plunked it on the footrest between my feet – sort of a double-ankle vise.

Mid-sandwich, I felt something touch my leg and looked down to see a teenage boy reaching between those ankles and grabbing my purse.

He ran out the door and headed up Madison Avenue.

My instinct was to chase him, but he had a head start. I couldn’t run out of the restaurant because I owed for my lunch, plus how fast was I going to run after the kid in my bulbous condition? Fuggedaboudit. The restaurant owner called the police for me.

The two detectives (!) came to my office that afternoon. I had lost my favorite purse, containing that month’s paycheck, my passport, monthly commuter train pass, makeup and wallet. The wallet contained my driver’s license, social security card, and 22 charge cards. Today’s Mastercard and Visa replace all those individual cards we used to carry like Sears, Bloomingdale’s, Shell Gasoline, etc.

Two days later, New York’s finest were back with my empty purse. The kid left my makeup bag and my wallet containing only my Turtle Club membership card.

I had already called the 22 companies, the license bureau, my employer’s payroll office, and the passport bureau. American Airlines, my employer, paid the emergency replacement passport fee – bless them.

That traumatic experience led to my carrying only the cards I might likely use on any given day. When Visa and Mastercard arrived, life became much simpler.

About 15 years ago, I made a rookie mistake. My best friend had driven us into Manhattan for a theater matinee. After the performance, I intended to pay for her parking. The city garages are so expensive that charge cards are necessary. I gave my American Express card to the attendant who took it to the window for processing while we chatted. I should have taken it myself.

Back home from the weekend whirlwind, I crashed, exhausted, hoping to sleep in. American Express had other plans. They called before 6:00 a.m. After verifying that I was me, the fraudmeister asked, “Have you purchased any international airline tickets or computers in the past two days?” Stunned, I told her I hadn’t. “We have eighty-nine hundred dollars in charges, including two tickets to Valparaiso, Chile and two to Madrid. Two computers with many accessories, and one piece of jewelry for $1,200. Are any of these your purchases?” Nope.

That conversation was literally a wake-up call.

Thankfully American Express took care of everything by not putting the charges through. It intrigues me that they know my buying habits so well. And they also knew I wasn’t in New Jersey, where the charges originated. The fraud agent said that all the purchases were made during one hour from the same Hoboken computer.

Beginning 20 years ago in Europe, sales people and waiters brought the machine to you – not the other way around. Your card never leaves your hand as mine had in that garage. As much technology upgrading as we have done in the U.S., most restaurants still take your card away to process.

Protecting that little plastic rectangle is always at the top of my paranoid list when I travel. The thought of losing it makes my blood run cold. Almost as chilling as having the phone ring at six in the morning. Again.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com


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