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My credit card got hacked

I'm still on the road, too. Good thing I had backup.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 7, 2011 11:36AM
A credit card issuer e-mailed me to warn of potentially fraudulent activity. My immediate thought was that the company had simply forgotten that I was traveling, even though I'd notified them.

Nope. Somebody had gotten hold of my number and used it twice. Guess where.

Yep. Wal-Mart. In Fort Myers, Fla.

You'd think people would want to do something cooler than that. Designer clothing, maybe, or at least some of those M&Ms with your photograph on them.

But no: Wal-Mart it was, for $90 each time. The odd thing is that the transactions were physical transactions, according to the card fraud department. Whoever got my number must also have one of those card-making machines.

Initially I wondered if the e-mail was a scam, particularly since the phone number given did not match the one on my card. I was later told that there are numerous offices for that particular branch of customer service. Credit card fraud is a growth industry.

What made it look even more suspicious was the fact that when I clicked on the link provided, the first thing I was asked to do was enter my credit card and Social Security numbers.

Not going to happen -- there are just way too many phishing scams out there, and I was using a Wi-Fi connection to boot.

Long-distance rigamarole
Thus I decided to use one of the phone numbers on the back of my Visa, which turned into a half-hour project. First I tried calling collect -- three times at two different numbers -- but none of the calls were accepted. So I went through the considerable rigamarole of using a hostel pay phone with a prepaid calling card. This required dialing a bunch of numbers, speaking with the international operator, and then dialing all the numbers again.

When the call went through, a recorded greeting said, "Yes, operator, this number accepts collect calls." Well, rats: I was paying 17 cents a minute for a call that should have been free. But by then I did not want to hang up and redial/redial. It was getting uncomfortably close to the time I needed to start walking to the theater.

The customer-service agent confirmed that there had been fraudulent charges on the card. She asked me a few questions and then told me the card would be canceled immediately and a fraud report sent for me to fill out.

I wish I'd remembered to ask her why a customer would be expected to provide credit card and Social Security numbers via return e-mail. Even though this was a legitimate case, asking for such info electronically just sounds wrong.

Luckily, I had backup

Once more, with feeling: You need more than one payment method while traveling.

This could have been a huge problem had that been the only card I own. It isn't. I packed two credit cards and my debit card, and I still have about half the British currency I'd brought along.

Had I been relying on one credit (or debit) card, I'd be up the creek and paddle-free right about now. Maybe reduced to busking for spare change in the Underground ("down in the tunnels trying to make it pay," as Dire Straits would have it). People might pay me to stop singing, but I doubt it would be enough to fund the last 10 days of the journey, no matter how cheaply I eat.

If you have a chance to go somewhere, even just for a weekend, make sure you have more than one way to pay your way. Consider programming customer-service numbers (but not the credit card numbers!) into your cell phone as well.

And hey, all you cash-only purists: Stash your money in more than one wallet or pocket, in the event you're robbed. I keep seeing "Pickpockets are known to work in this area" signs all over London, even in a KFC restaurant. How are you going to pay for your biscuits-and-extra-crispy if your only cash or your debit card get lifted?

Keep your payment methods close -- and keep them multiple.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at
Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

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