Editorial Policy

A Thief Swiped my Credit Card Information

Allie Johnson

June 25, 2013

In all of the years I’ve been using credit cards, I’ve never had a fraudulent charge on my account — until last weekend. I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner and swiped my rewards card: declined.

I assumed it was a glitch with the grocery store’s card reader, and I pulled out a different card. But the next morning, when my husband and I walked downtown with our dogs to grab coffee and bagels, the card was declined again. We both panicked, assuming we were at our credit limit, even though we should have been almost $2,000 under. We fretted all through breakfast.

As soon as we got home, I logged in to online banking and saw a note in red saying my account had been suspended and telling me to call an 800 number.

Our credit card company, Capital One, had spotted suspicious activity on our account. I got transferred to the fraud department, and the representative read down the list of suspicious charges. There were several small charges for $2 to $4, then one bigger one for about $93, from a company calling itself Uploaded, for “web design and data processing services.”

I asked the representative how the credit card company had known the charges were fraudulent, and he said they originated outside the country, which raised red flags.

Capital One couldn’t pinpoint exactly how my card number had been compromised, but they did give me a few tips on how to prevent it from happening again:

  • Don’t allow your card out of sight for too long at restaurants. The longer the card is in someone else’s hands, the more time there is for your card info to get stolen. Plus, smartphone apps can be used to steal credit card data in five seconds, so it’s even more crucial to keep an eye on your card.
  • When you’re at a checkout, watch what happens with your card. One thing to look for: a cashier telling you your card didn’t go through the first time, then swiping it in another device.
  • Reconsider using your card at the gas pump. Criminals can install “skimmers,” devices that capture card data, on gas pumps. Consider paying inside the gas station instead. The computer security blog Krebs on Security offers an overview of the types of skimmers crooks install on gas pumps and ATMs, showing what they look like and why they’re hard to spot.
  • Check frequently for any suspicious activity, even charges in very small amounts, the Federal Trade Commission recommends. Criminals will sometimes try to put a small charge or two through to test the card and then follow up with a bigger charge. It looks like that’s what happened with my card.

One more thing: If you share a card with someone else, ask them right away about any charges you don’t recognize. When I first saw the fraudulent charges online, as I was calling the credit card company, I assumed they were from something my husband had purchased. I would have asked him about them eventually, even if my credit card company hadn’t flagged them. But I did realize that, when you share a card, an unrecognized charge might not automatically set off your internal alarm bells.