Kim Berns’ Post Road: I’m No Fraud


You might have noticed in last Sunday’s NY Times Week in Review, right next to the item on Metal Fatigue, describing airplanes suddenly becoming convertibles, there was a blurb on security breaches.

I like to read these disastrous headlines from the safety of my kitchen, but I knew about the hackers that cracked the digital security of the marketing firm that services the likes of Citibank, JP Morgan, Target, etc, because they sent me an e-mail.  For the all the Hilton get-aways I never take and the Marriott International hotels I haven’t visited lately, they were quick to inform me that Epsilon, the marketing vendor, had a breach where hackers accessed the names and e-mail addresses of customers.

This is big business that requires the Secret Service– the agency that investigates credit card fraud.  It takes the big guns– the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General– to decide on penalties.

But it takes standing in line at the Stop and Shop with circus clowns in your cart to really see some action on the security front.

This week when my card was denied, the check out girl, with arched brow, asked that I contact the card issuer prompting me to dig for another card I recently got because my husband wants cash back, not reward points that he refuses to reward himself with.  I assumed they stopped the card because it seemed impossible for one person to be omnipresent at Stop and Shop while not being the store manager.

Last year my card, same Visa, different number, had been denied at this same store.  Turns out my profile didn’t fit the one where the real card user was paying for escort services at ‘Midnight Delight’.  The inconvenience was less annoying than acknowledging that the high tech fraud monitors at Visa were busting up laughing at my ‘profile’ cavorting with escorts.  Dull little me?

It wasn’t always so.  In the days where people talked on land lines, I used to frequently get ‘cut in’ by an operator for talking excessively long distance, usually to some guy I met who lived far way and then to a girl friend to tell her about the guy that lived far away.  Now they send you a text to remind you to shut the hell up. It’s just not the same.

When I called Visa this last time, my pathetic hacker was attempting to give money to the Future Church in Lakewood, Ohio; $34.00!  Where was the sexy hacker?  And why didn’t they stop the card earlier that day when I plunked down $1710.00 so my kid could get a root canal, but only when I was attempting to buy him a painkiller for under $10.00?

“They gave us a bad expiration date”.  The top-notch hawks at Visa said the common red flag is the thief uses random numbers with random expiration dates.  Once a vendor rejects the card for this reason, the card gets taken down.  Not knowing the three digit code on the back is another dead give-away.  But these usually aren’t folks handing a card over at the CVS check-out. According to this rep, it is commonplace, in the 1000’s of transactions a day due to on-line shopping.

I prefer to get ripped off the old fashioned way, like by people who have the cojones to say, bump into your chair in a crowded restaurant at lunch, fall to the ground feigning injury while their partner rifles through the purse you left foolishly hanging from your chair; cha-ching: the card number is used in 5 disparate locations before you’ve gotten back to the office to cancel it.  Silver lining: your cheap friend treats you to a sympathy lunch.

Lesson learned.  Do not literally bend over backwards for people that appear too stupid to walk around your chair.

Even more impressive is the office helper, assistant to your secretary (I had one of those!), who laughs heartily at every lame office joke, compliments your cheap un-ironed outfits and wants to make the coffee.  Until HR comes to your office to ask you if you’ve had your wallet emptied lately—hard to tell when it’s always void of cash-and that they are running a complimentary credit report on you.  Turns out my amiable Girl Friday, Denise, has not only pilfered your pockets and mine but once tried to buy a Toyota Camry in my name.  And, had a twin sister working at the Social Security Office; you guessed it, duplicating your identity.  Bravo.

Anyone can hide in their mom’s basement unraveling code, but it takes Cary Grant to take it off your neck and make you think you like it.

Normally the closer we are to the thieves that live to steal from us, the less comfortable it feels.  When you know that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has your back, sending offenders to the clinker for 10-20, you can sleep at night.  When you know that real-time detection of your every purchase is being monitored in countries where you don’t speak the language, you can throw caution to the wind.

But if you want to avoid becoming a professional victim, for just $19.95 you can purchase Identity Stronghold blocking products.  A mini sleeve, now in leather, can prevent the Radio Frequency Identification which is embedded in credit cards, cell phones, passports and the like from electronic pick-pocketing.  No surprise that the Nevada Attorney General’s office endorses this.  Not only is this ripping off of the customer bad for Las Vegas and the bottom line, but it’s oceans away from what George Clooney and his band of merry cons did for the much needed glamorous illusion of stealing.

Kim Berns is a writer and interior designer living in Rye

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