Monday, October 18, 2010

Skim Chance

I have swiped my debit card many, many times. Thousands, probably. But never before have I been "skimmed."

Then I had the audacity to spend an afternoon downtown last week. Met a source for an interview at L.A. Live, hung out at the L.A. Public Library and had dinner with some friends.

By the time I arrived back home, there was a message waiting for me from my bank's fraud department. Some "unusual activity" on my card had been detected. I've gotten the message before, usually when I've made a purchase or withdrawn money in an unusual spot (turns out I'm deathly predictable), so I ignored it.

I wasn't worried until they called back the next morning. Three $75 to $125 charges at gas stations in Colorado that evening had triggered the red flag. Gas stations? I hadn't gotten gas in more than a week, and when I do I use my Chevron card. And Colorado? I can't remember the last time I've been in Denver or Aurora.

The fraud claim has been filed and my card has been shredded. It could have been much worse. I'm particularly grateful for the nervous Nellies at my bank, who obviously have darn good algorithms.

I can't help but think that my card and PIN number were skimmed at one of the two downtown garages where I parked. Convenient as they are, I've never liked those swipe-your-own-card machines. First off, they're eliminating jobs for parking attendants. And now, I know how easy they are to defraud. I think I'll have to avoid them whenever possible.


  1. The good news is your bank is on its toes. The bad news is, those machines are everywhere. Many of them take cash, though. I guess I'll keep some handy.

  2. Ugh. I wonder if they were randomly skimming or if you were 'profiled.'

    I wish the prevent-ripoff technology could stay ahead of the ripoff technology. It seems like banks are losing a lot of money on this.

  3. Yes, they sure are.

    It's like everything, though. They can try to stay one step ahead of the crooks, but they have to constantly keep moving because the bad guys are always catching up.

    By the way, I talked to the fraud investigators today and they said the full amount will be credited to my account and any bank charges accrued will be refunded. Yay for Wells Fargo!

  4. So sorry that happened to you, Karen, but as Petrea says, your bank was on its toes to alert you. Love that they do that.

  5. About a year ago, on of my credit card numbers charged books at a bookstore in Colorado. I wonder what it is about Colorado? The thin air?

  6. Mr. Earl, I wish it was me buying books in Aurora, Co. instead of beer and cigs in Denver. ;-)

  7. I don't use debit cards, but an important lesson for credit card users is to call your bank when you plan to travel, especially abroad, so the bank will not refuse a charge from, say, Japan, that is legitimate.

  8. Very good point, Jane!

    One of the lessons from this for us has been to use our Amex more often than our debit.

    Not only do we earn points off it (and pay it off so no huge credit card interest rates) but it doesn't give crooks access to our bank accounts, as a skimmed debit would/does.

  9. Karen,
    Next time take the train!
    I was born and raised in LA, but now live in San Juan Capistrano. I still have business and personal reasons to go downtown, but have learned that Metolink Trains, subways, and busses are the absolutely best way to get in,out, and around LA. the cost from SJC is $11.50 round trip, including all the subways and busses I can ride.
    Last week I had a business meeting at the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax, and used all three. A good meeting, great lunch, and, as I looked at the crowded rainy freeway as we sped by, a real time saver.

  10. You're so right, John. In fact I was going to take the Metro Gold Line that day but I had a last-minute deadline and it does take longer to ride than to drive, so I drove in.

    Good for you for avoiding the freeway and getting all the way back down to South O.C. on public transport. It can be done!