This morning my wife received an email from one of her online acquaintances — I’ll call her Barbara. Barbara’s letter read like this:
Unfortunately, I have become the latest victim of internet fraud. Even though I thought I was taking enough precautions to make online shopping safe — I use McAfee Firewall Protection, VirusScan, Ad-Aware, and ZoneAlarm to protect myself from viruses and hackers and made sure I was using “secure” sites — somehow the crooks still managed to steal my information.
It happened this week when I purchased theater tickets from telecharge.com using my Visa CheckCard. I ordered the tickets on the 16th – total $353.50. Yesterday, I saw the purchase posted to my account, but I also noticed a pending transaction for the same amount on the same date for an “Oliver and Wildgoose,” a company I never heard of. After spending hours on the phone with the bank and with Telecharge, I discovered that Oliver and Wildgoose is the name of a liquor store in the Bahamas.
I thought that since the transaction was listed as “pending,” I’d caught it in time to “stop payment,” like you can do with a check. It doesn’t work that way with a check card. “Pending” means the funds have already been extracted — they are just not officially posted to the account yet. So, the money is gone. Today I have to go to the bank to file claims, open a new account, order checks, etc. — I’ve been told it could be up to 90 days for the investigation to be processed. Hopefully, I will be able to recoup the $350. I also need to file a police report and put a fraud alert on my credit report in case this individual (who is evidently partying it up right now in the Bahamas) plans to steal my identity, too.
Ain’t online life grand? I consider stories like this — and it isn’t the first debit-card disaster I’ve heard — just more ammunition to strafe away at Dave Ramsey’s admonitions that “All you need is a debit card.” Here’s a little tidbit from DaveRamsey.com, in fact:
If you “have to” use plastic, I suggest a debit card. I use them for travel and the occasional convenience of ordering something over the Internet or phone. Other than that, I use cash.
Knowing what I do, I’ll state here and now that preaching “debit card exclusivity” is stupid advice. It’s horribly naive, in my opinion, and laughably unrealistic.
The last part of Barbara’s email also bears repeating here, I think:
The lessons I’ve learned that I’m passing on:
1. Don’t use a check card for any online purchases!!!
2. Don’t use a check card anywhere where you can’t physically watch the salesperson swipe the card — restaurants and gas stations included.
3. If you’re going to make an online purchase, find out if your credit card company offers a “disposable” number designed for one-time use. If you’re a Visa customer, sign up for Verified by Visa.
4. Monitor your accounts closely (luckily I do) and keep all receipts in a safe place.
5. Make sure you have up-to-date hacker protection!
6. Find out the privacy policies and security measures of any online merchant you use. Know that even “secure” sites can be hacked.
7. If you use a check card, find out what your bank’s policies are when it comes to filing fraud claims.