December 18, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

Credit Card Swindle

Professional crime is nothing more than a way of living and working within a great variety of parasitic sub-cultures.

David W. Maurer, 1931

I routinely check my VISA bill against receipts. I have been doing this for well over 30 years and have never had a problem. Last month I found a charge or $404 from the NBA. I called VISA and the person I talked to asked me if I was a basketball fan. When I told her that the last basketball game that I went to was 60 years ago, she suggested that I call the outfit that had posted the charge. If they wouldn't reverse the charge, I would have to go through the trouble of disputing the claim in writing; one big pain. I called NBA and the woman I talked to asked the same question. When I gave her the same answer she said that she would immediately credit my account. Four days later, my account balance had returned to what it should have been.

It seemed obvious to me that some thief had tried to rob me of $404. Had I not detected the error, he would have succeeded. As it was, all that I was out of was a bit of time and had some anxiety, wondering whether I would have to dispute the charge with VISA and go through a lot of red tape. The most that a credit card company can nick a customer is $50.

I would be willing to wager that there are a large number of people who never check their credit card statement and simply pay it automatically. When a credit card thief finds someone who doesn't challenge the charge, he can go on swindling him every month and, I would bet that he does. He can milk his victim monthly. It can be a very profitable business. I figure that I have been tested and that it is unlikely that the person who tried to rob me would try again.

How did someone get my credit card number? That is the easiest thing in the world. Anyone who is employed either by a vendor I patronize, or any employee of the credit card company can get it. Most of the people in this category are honest, but it just takes one crook. If I want the convenience of the credit card, I have to accept the possibility of an occasional crook, just as I have to accept the possibility that I might be robbed at gun point. Since the vast majority of people are honest, the odds are very much in my favor.

So I will go on using a credit card and hope that what I have just experienced will never happen again. If it does, I hope that the resolution of the problem will be as easy as it was this time.

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