Sophistication of credit fraud continues to increase

Published 8:45 pm Saturday, July 4, 2015

The thought of credit card fraud is a scary one. Someone pretending to be you purchasing items that you might be responsible for.

In the span of five weeks, I’ve had two credit card numbers stolen. The thieves bought all kinds of ridiculous things on websites that appear to be of Russian origin, but also a couple items I wouldn’t mind having.

The latest incident involved a charge at an antiques mall in Austin, Texas. The store’s website has a photo gallery of its merchandise, most of which I find appealing. There are large American flags, Texas flags, several antique Texas-themed items, pottery and more of the usual stuff you find at antique stores.

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We lived in Texas a few years ago (my wife is from the Houston area), and ever since leaving we have tried to find the perfect rusty, metal Texas star. So far, we haven’t found what we’re looking for. So it’s a bit comical that the thieves used my card at a store that happens to have the very star we are looking for. I wonder if that’s what they purchased?

What’s odd about the fraudulent purchases is that they were made in the store, not online. And since I’m still holding the only two physical credit cards we have, I’m not quite sure how the transaction was handled. Did the thief have my number written on a scrap of paper? If so, why would any store accept payment from an obvious thief? The other oddity: My current credit card number was changed just three weeks ago, since the previous card number was also stolen. So in the matter of three weeks, thieves managed to obtain my number and use it at a store that I might shop in the next time I’m in Austin.

That shows just how sophisticated credit card fraud has become. The thief was smart enough this time to not use it for extravagant purchases from Russian websites — those throw up a red flag immediately. They used the card at a place I’ve never been to, but easily could have. My guess is they used the card at a place that wouldn’t seem odd as a test. If the purchase cleared, I’m sure they planned to max out the card anywhere that would accept it.

Did the thieves know we spend time in Texas every year? We were just there a couple weeks ago, but we didn’t use the now-stolen card.

Did they know the antique store purchase wouldn’t stand out as unusual? Did they just assume I like antiques or did they know this? How much do these thieves know about my family? It’s a frightening thought.

I called the store where the purchase was made. They claim to not have a record of the purchase. But the store’s name is printed on my credit card statement, so obviously the card was used there. Or the thieves have created a system that allows them to edit the store name when they swipe stolen cards.

Thankfully, I won’t be responsible for paying for those fraudulently purchased items. But I’m still left with a stomach-churning feeling of being taken advantage of.  Or maybe the thief was just buying me a late birthday gift — with my own money.

Luke Horton is the publisher of The Daily Leader.