A credit card company representative called me on a recent Friday afternoon to ask if I was buying groceries in Georgia.
I wasn’t. I was at the Daily Chronicle, hoping I remembered to pick up milk on the way home. The Commerce Bank security employee told me someone had charged about $200 that day to my credit card, which I hadn’t used in a couple of months.
As credit card fraud goes, it was a pleasant experience. The security employee verified that I hadn’t used my card at all recently and that these were the only new charges, closed the account and sent me some paperwork to sign to have the fraudulent charges removed from my account. The security employee hypothesized that a vendor where I had used the card before had been hacked.
I got the paperwork Monday. Apparently this person had four transactions at Kroger and one each at Walgreens and Coca-Cola. It looks like all I need to do is sign the paperwork certifying the charges were fraudulent and they’ll be taken off my account. I kind of hope the person responsible finds his or her way to the courthouse for this matter, too.
But, it made me wonder how vulnerable I was to more credit card fraud or a true identity theft. I called the folks over at Castle Bank in DeKalb, where branch manager Tho Pham had these tips:
• Check your credit bureau information at least once a year to make sure there aren’t unfamiliar credit lines or balances on your report. You can get a free copy of this information, without your credit score, at www.annualcreditreport.com.
• If you are traveling, even within the United States, let your credit card company know. Often, they will shut off a card if charges appear in a high-fraud area to prevent a bevy of fraudulent charges, but you wouldn’t want to have your card shut off if you are traveling.
• Make sure your contact information, especially your cellphone number, is updated on your credit card accounts. That way, if company representatives want to ask you about suspicious recent activity, you can respond quickly.
• To stop receiving pre-approved credit offers in the mail, call 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688). You can call the same number to add your name back.
• Consider using credit cards, rather than debit cards. Although banks will mediate disputed charges much like credit card companies do, the money will be removed from your account until the matter is resolved, affecting your actual bank balance. Disputed credit card charges only affect your credit line until they are resolved.
I’ve reviewed my credit report from time to time over the past five years, but I hadn’t worried much about identity theft or credit card fraud, primarily because I’ve never thought of myself as a person with much worth stealing.
This experience is a good reminder that that’s not the case. Taking a few minutes to make sure safeguards are in place can save plenty of headaches later.
• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter @jillianduch.