Living just east of Crazy

Something Smells Like Fraud

Written By: Eddie Snipes - Mar• 31•11

On two different occasions I have presented my check card to a store only to get declined for ‘suspicion of fraudulent activity’ for the previous week’s purchases. The most recent event occurred in February. I verify my account daily, so I was caught off guard when my card was declined as I attempted to make a purchase. Unless a sudden influx of debits hit my account since leaving the house, I couldn’t possibly have been low on funds.

I called and was redirected to the fraud department. “Mr. Snipes, our system has identified unusual activity on your account,” the man on the line said. “I need you to verify the last three days transactions for me.”

After going through countless security questions to prove I was me (or was me, I?), the fraud expert began to go down the ‘unusual’ activities. “Did you make a purchase at Ingles grocery store for $42.17?”

“Now that you mention it, I did break a three year fast and decided to get food for our family,” I affirmed.

“Did you make a purchase of $36.51 at RaceTrac gas station?” he asked.

“Silly me. I normally wait until I’m on empty, but yesterday I decided to fill up before running low. My apologies for not having the usual amount of $54 for a fill up.”

“Did you make a purchase of $4.77 at Chick-fil-a?”

“Guilty as charged. When I broke my fast, I went hog wild and got breakfast too.”

Gas, groceries, and nearly $5 at a drive-through. How is that suspicious purchasing activity? Since this was the second time I was flagged, I scoured through my statements to see what could be triggering the account for fraud. Every week the activity is the same. I don’t use my check card on the internet, so the purchases rarely vary. For the life of me, I couldn’t identify anything that was different than the last fifty-two weeks of everyday purchases in my normal life.

If getting flagged for fraud when buying groceries wasn’t enough, today took the cake. I have daily balances sent to my phone, so each morning I check it to make sure it was what I expected. Today it was not. $300 disappeared, and I knew we hadn’t made any purchases since last night. I logged on and low and behold, there were two very suspicious transactions. One was for an internet gaming company and one was for a sight called ‘Cheap smells’. It smelled fishy. After a bit of research, I found both companies were foreign sites and no one in my family had any interest in their products.

This brings up a question. How is it that gas and groceries flagged my account as potentially fraudulent, but gambling and cheap smells did not? Since I have never used my card for internet gaming / gambling, and it certainly doesn’t make sense to buy cheap perfume from a foreign country, why didn’t this raise a flag for suspicious activity? Call me crazy, but if I were analyzing fraud, I would be more willing to scrutinize purchases from a foreign country than ones from a local gas station and grocery store. Which is more suspicious? Buying life’s necessities from retail locations less than 5 miles from my house, or making worthless internet purchases on the other side of the world?

Perhaps questioning gambling purchases in ill-reputed countries is considered profiling, so they must balance it out by playing hardball with local grocery stores. It’s kind of like the stories a few years back where security was strip searching old ladies at the airport to prove they weren’t profiling.

Perhaps the real fraud is the modern view of security. Online fraud is now pushing three billion dollars and has risen 600% since 2004. Online fraud complaints more than tripled between 2008 and 2010. Something isn’t working. Could it be that the security model is broken? While internet predators hide safely behind their computers, consumers are being asked to justify daily transactions. Even if caught, a foreign thief has very little fear of consequences. A bank simply won’t go after a fraudulent $149 transaction. His account will be closed, and he’ll have to open up another dozen while he grabs his share of the $3 billion pie of fraud that will occur in 2011.

Perhaps I should by something from cheap smells to cover up the odor coming from the new security model of the banking industry.

If you’re a security employee at a bank, I must add a disclaimer. The opinion expressed here may or may not reflect the view point of the author, website, internet service provider, or any other person that may or may not agree with the said information written herein, without, or in between.

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  1. FARfetched says:

    Wow, that’s interesting — I could see where they might cock an eyebrow at a string of purchases made at unusual places (say, Ingles & Chick-Fil-A two states away). But not looking at $300 of dodgy Internet purchases? Hm.

  2. V.V. Denman says:

    I’ve gotten red-flagged at Christmas time before. And once when a frauder debited 42 cents to see if my account was legit. The bank did a switch-a-roo before the bad guy hit me with a larger sum.

    So the system is working for me. Maybe you should question your provider. But it makes for a great post.

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