Credit card skimming sucks

Sorry about my bluntness here, but I can’t think of a better way than this to illustrate my point: credit card skimming sucks.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a victimless crime. Yes, we all pay for it because companies pass the costs onto consumers in their fees. There is a personal cost, as well.

Two recent credit card skimming stories, one in Calgary and another in Toronto, reminded me of my own experience a few years ago.

Working full-time, I was also completing a contract for a small business (a business that never paid me in full, but that’s another story for another blog) on the side. My intention was, in part, to pay off my credit card debt. If I needed motivation, I’d log onto my online banking site and remind myself how far I’d come, but also how far I had to go.

One day, the online balance on my credit card was $1,500 higher than it had been only the day before. Confused, I started trying to explain this to myself. Not possible. Scanning the list of charges, I saw:

  • a $700 trip to a home improvement store
  • a $400 purchase at Wal-mart
  • several hundred dollars spent on B.C. Ferries’ tickets
  • and – get this – close to $100 at McDonald’s*

Photo: Heather Setka

I burst into tears. At work. My manager (also a dear friend, thank goodness) talked me down off the ledge, and told me to phone my credit card company. The company employee was polite and helpful, for sure. However, they did have to investigate. This investigation included a phone call to an acquaintance who owned a funky boutique in Art Central. I’d purchased a shirt there the same day as the Wal-mart/McDonald’s binge, and the credit card peeps wanted to question her about me, and my credit card use.

Embarrassing, but fine. Whatever. It was done, right? No big deal.

Not quite. It wasn’t the worse crime to cross paths with, but it still hurt to be targeted. While I’d been trying so hard to get my financial life in order, someone else could simply steal my credit card number and blow a whole bunch of my fake money on cheeseburgers and handsaws.

I tried to imagine this person or people using my card number. In my mind, they feel guilty and shady. They’re terrified of being caught, and they feel horrible about harming me. They’re also magical fairies who ride unicorns on their way to have tea with the elves.

I’ll never know who they are or if they were even caught. Because this is a “victimless” crime that happens to the credit card company – and not you – you never learn about the final outcome. At least I didn’t.

It’s not my desire to reach out to these people anyway. I doubt that me crying in my office would sway them from their current life path. My hope is to connect with you**, and remind you that your information should be guarded. There are ways to protect yourself (warning: these tips start off so commonsense that it sounds stupid, but they get better as they go. Don’t abandon them until you get there).

What helped me was checking my balance so often. Sometimes, we avoid it because we don’t want to face the damage. Had I not been on it so often, I wonder how much else these high-rollers would have spent.

My other advice would be to not use your credit card at all. But that’s also another story for another day.

~HS

*Who even knew you could spend that much at McDonald’s? I’m totally going to try one day. You know, as a scientific experiment to see if it’s actually possible.

**Unless, of course, you are a credit card skimmer or thinking of joining their ranks. In that case, can I just ask you to stop being such a jerk?

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