Identity Thieves Mastered My Card

I just completed a 10-day ordeal dealing with fraudulent charges on two credit cards. On Friday Nov. 18, my card donated $1.89 to the Hong Kong chapter of the relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières. The following Monday, my wife's card spent around $190 with the Ito-Yokado retailer in Japan.

These charges were discovered within 72 hours as I reviewed my MasterCard account online. I had just paid for wireless Internet access at a Disney World conference center on Nov. 20, and a day later I became retroactively paranoid about providing my credit card details to the strongest wireless access point in range of my laptop.

That decision didn't have a chance to come back and haunt me, because I was already being robbed across Asia. I cancelled the cards.

I'd like to figure out how this happened. The two cards have different numbers, have never been lost and aren't used at the same merchants.

MasterCard announced in March that 40 million credit card numbers were exposed by a security breach at a Tucson processing center, so my best guess is that thieves hit numbers stolen from a database (rather than my pants).

But how could both of our cards get hit on different numbers, and what kind of self-respecting identity thief makes a $1.89 test charge and doesn't follow up with a weekend spending spree?

My bank didn't provide any more details on the charges, which takes all the fun out of being victimized by international criminals. I wanted to find out what they bought from Ito-Yokado, a huge Japanese retail chain that owns a majority interest in 7-Eleven, and where my $1.89 donation will be used.


Hey, Rog.

Weird - my mom called me today to tell me that someone used her credit card number to exchange less than $20 into Tunisian rupees (or something like that).

You're aware that back in the Denver Days, I had an Amex and Visa "cloned" and used for a shopping spree in the UK. In later years, I thought that might make a good reality show: victims of credit card fraud get to live the lives of their credit card doppelgangers. Stay at luxurious European hotels... shop for expensive clothes and state-of-the-art electronics...

And then eat bull intestines. (It's a reality show, after all.)

Bull intestines aren't bad. You would think that both these credit card monoliths would enforce redundant protocols to ensure that contractors follow the rules.

I got an alert from out of the blue about credit card fraud a few weeks ago. At first I thought it was a notice that I had been victimized, but then I saw that it was just a friendly reminder from my bank.

I took it as a message from above, and froze the account.

I agree that there should be a "national
law requiring that consumers be notified
when their information is breached."

My mom was hit by identity thieves also, who apparently got her cards long enough during a trip to Florida to hit them all over Miami. The cards were in her possession when the bank called to report suspicious activity.

Since that happened, I shred mail related to my accounts and drop off outgoing mail at a post office box.

To reduce my potential liability against identity theft, I also make less money.

It would seem that Florida is a wonderful place for identity thiefs to operate. I have had checks and credit card numbers stolen while in florida and I am very careful with my information...

It might be just a coincidence, but I saw some Japanese text in your comments column a couple of weeks ago. I thought at the time that maybe someone was messing with you.

I had one card of mine hit a bunch of times. I cancelled it, got a new one; more fraud; cancelled that one. As it is now, I just keep that card within $50 of its limit. I think that keeps me safe from big abuses.

American corporations are sometimes reviled for a perceived corrosive influence in world trade. Ironically, many of these companies are heavily invested in by foreign corps, or are actually owned outright by them.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. If the Japanese buy up real estate in New York City, or the Chinese do the same in San Francisco, it gives them a stake in this country. They certainly have an interest in the prosperity of the U.S., if only to protect their own investments.

Makes you wonder why Mastercard didn't insist on a reissue all of those cards too.

Realist said: "They certainly have an interest in the prosperity of the U.S., if only to protect their own investments."

Or, you buy low, sell high, pull the money out of the market (and the economy); wait for the economy to tank and then buy low again.

We had a large condo development open up for sale and everything was snapped up in a day; almost all of the sales came from money outside of the region. That means that schmoe residents can't afford to live here. Without affordable living for local residents, the infrastructure gets creaky. Burger flippers leave town. The burger joint can't staff properly. The burger joint goes downhill and closes and that business owner is screwed because foreign ownership of local property has created a Gold Rush economy of inflated prices. When the balloon pops, suddenly stuff is cheap.

Foreign investment is dubious at best.

Back on topic: the credit card wouldn't do a large scale re-issue for two reasons.
A) it would torpedo consumer confidence and suddenly they'd be deluged with customer support calls of people freaked out if their bills have fraudlent charges.
B) the credit cards get their service fees for every transaction that goes through successfully. If the defrauded people said nothing, then those merchants get their money, Mastercard gets its fees; and plebes get the bill.

A friend of mine once had his Visa # used to buy a bunch of small items, including a pizza. On a lark, we went to the pizza place and aked if the pizza was a pick-up or if it had been delivered. It was the latter. We convinced the pizza joint to give us the address of the credit frauders, but neither the police nor Visa was interested in the fruits of our investigation. The credit card companies really don't seem to care much about fraud. I guess they make enough on revolving debt to cover the rest.

Bourne :
They don't care because they rarely foot the bill. They do a chargeback on fraud charges. The merchant then has that deducted from the amount that the credit card gives them. The merchant can't dispute it because if they do, they run the risk of being dropped by the merchant services arm of the credit card company.
Of course the credit card companies can be cavailier: someone else pays to make them money.

Reply to Mike:

Re: "Foreign investment is dubious at best".

You have a point, but it works both ways. American investments in real estate overseas have the same effects there.

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