I’ve been using Mint.com to manage my money for over a year now. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it gives me a quick bird’s eye view of my finances, without having to do too much work on my end. And there are some other benefits as well – this past week Mint.com alerted me to fraudulent activity on one of my credit cards, and the situation was one that my credit card company probably wouldn’t have caught (through no fault of their own).
Always Verify Your Monthly Credit Card Transactions
I don’t know how I was exposed to credit card fraud – just that it happened. But that is normally how it goes down. Thankfully, I received an alert from Mint.com which made me take a closer look at my credit card transactions.
I always go over my credit card transactions each month, but I wait until I receive my monthly statement before I do it. However, Mint sent me a “Fee Alert” which prompted me to log on to my account right away, where I noticed a fraudulent charge, masquerading as a “fee.” And the nature of the charge was something my credit card company probably wouldn’t have caught because on the surface; it didn’t appear to be fraud.
I’m very careful about paying my credit card in full each month, and I don’t do anything that should incur any credit card fees (in fact, the reason I use credit cards is for the cash back rewards and consumer protections).
When I looked at the fee, I didn’t recognize the charge on my credit card.
This is the charge (number redacted):
WEB SPACE FEE, $11.95, 888-***-1326 WA
Watch Out for Generic Credit Card Transactions
I didn’t recognize the transaction description, price of the transaction, the phone number, or the location. I don’t live in Washington and haven’t traveled there in a few years. But then again, I make a lot of online transactions, so location isn’t necessarily a big clue. I run several websites and have many other online interests – but I use my business credit card for these transactions.
I had no idea what this charge was, or who was behind it. Thankfully there was a telephone number, which I called.
The perfect scam? I called the number and received an automatic recording which immediately asked me if I was calling about a credit card transaction I didn’t recognize. I was indeed. Interesting.
I listened to the rest of the recording, which prompted me to press a number, then it requested the last few digits of my credit card number, which I gave. I then received a message from the thieves that the charge would be removed within a few days. There was no indication of what the charge was, who the “company” is, how my number was charged, etc. Simply a message the charge was removed.
Why is this the perfect scam? Because most people probably wouldn’t notice it! The charge was $11.95, which is a small enough number that most people would glaze over it. The other reason is that many of these thieves only hit a credit card one time, increasing their chances of going unnoticed.
Some of these scams have been going on for years: FTC: Scammers Stole Millions Using Micro Charges to Credit Cards.
Contact Your Credit Card Company’s Fraud Department
I had the fraudulent charge removed and reported the charge to the fraud department. Unfortunately, the odds of them finding the perpetrators is very slim – these thieves set up shop, run the scam until the account get shut down and set up another account. The thieves often use shell companies and other methods of hiding the tracks.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know how my credit card number was breached. I only use it at online locations that I trust. Unfortunately, I use it at stores and other locations, and it’s possible the number was stolen when a batch of credit card numbers was breached. It’s also possible the number was stolen by a skimmer, or someone else when I ate at a restaurant. It’s simply impossible for me to know based on the information I have at hand.
Going forward, I plan on monitoring my credit card transactions a little more closely. Hopefully, this will be the only time this happens, otherwise I may have to get a new credit card.
Check out Mint.com or a Similar Financial Tool
Mint.com was doing its job – they alerted me to a “fee” which got my attention, and turned out to be a fraudulent charge. I probably would have noticed it anyway, but it may have been a couple weeks later when the statement came. I highly recommend Mint.com to help keep track of your accounts and other financial information – it can save you time and money.
There are other great money management tools as well, including Personal Capital, which offers many similar features to Mint, but offers better investment management tools. This article compares Personal Capital and Mint.
What about Quicken? Quicken is a decent tool, but I stopped using Quicken due to their annual subscription fee and some bugs that I couldn’t work through. I prefer Mint or Personal Capital over Quicken. There are also many free Quicken Alternatives that offer similar or better features.
I Also Recommend Getting a Good Credit Card.
Credit cards can offer cash back and other rewards, but more importantly, they offer consumer protections. I wouldn’t have been responsible for any of the charges made on the card, since I never lost physical possession of the card and I reported the theft immediately.
However, that may not be the case with a stolen debit card number, because the thieves can immediately drain your account, leaving you without your hard earned cash. You may also be on the hook for a larger liability with a debit card vs. a credit card. This is why I prefer using credit cards over debit cards.
Which credit card is best?
Here are some great cards depending on your needs: