What If Someone Steals Your Credit Card Number? Talk about Stress!
Identity theft is nothing new. Ending up with a bunch of charges you don’t recognize on your statement can happen more easily than most people think.
This horror happened to my new husband and me during our trip to Mexico to get married. A month later back in our one-room apartment, we opened the MasterCard statement and experienced simultaneous coronary events. We’d first used the card in Mexico City. The MasterCard people’s best guess was that it was in that city that someone had hijacked the card number. This was decades before I knew the soul-lifting experience of room-service and before Hilton Honors Points changed my life.
There was the Yamaha in Monterrey ($7.50 a night, biker parking), the Las Palmas in San Luis Potasi ($19.00, over a lively all-night bar). Thus, it was not a jump to imagine that a hungry desk clerk took a shot at a new living room set or–given the enormous amount stolen from us–maybe took a shot at a whole new lifestyle. This thief or gang of criminals was no bargain-hunter.
Probably not necessary to mention that the eyes of the greedy thieves didn’t let something like our barely three figures limit put a bump in their spending. Late charges were mounting up with each tick of the second hand.
The MasterCard phone people (yes, real people used to talk to you) did their best to calm me down. They assured me over and over that we would not be expected to pay the charges and that they would not go on our records once we took care of the situation.
All we had to do was go into the bank in the morning and identify the charges not made by us. I tried to shake it off but I grew up in a cash only Danish Lutheran-Appalachian Baptist home where owing money was right up there with armed robbery. I couldn’t sleep. I kept seeing myself talking to my family through a glass wall on visiting days.
By the time we were at the bank the next morning I’d gone from timid and feeling stupid to outraged that someone would take advantage of nice people like us. “What kind of world is it,” I’d asked Ms. MasterCard Lady, where nobody cares who gets hurt?” Then I turned my indignant righteousness on the bank people, “Why doesn’t MasterCard have a system in place to catch identity thieves, especially when it was so obvious they were using a card way beyond its limit?” The bank people were really nice about it and apologized for my upset state. Just married, and yet I can tell you that I saw a look of empathy on my new husband’s face–not for me–but for the nice lady trying to calm me down. This is a look that would become pretty much a logo for our marriage.
Nice Ms. MasterCard Lady escorted us into a magnificent conference room (one of those where terms like ‘wealth management’ and ‘stock margins’ are thrown around). In those days, the bank had actual photo-copies of receipts. Each of us was put in front of a computer of that day. We were each given a pad of paper to list the fraudulent charges as we came across them.
I said, “Thanks, but this is going to be a pain! It doesn’t seem fair that other people can ruin my day like this.” She agreed and reiterated that we would not have to pay any late charges or go to prison for incredibly bad travel judgment. The nice bank lady brought coffee. We settled in.
After the first few receipts we hit a rhythm. Click. Click. He’d sigh. I’d sigh. Click. Click. The first dozen or so were easy. Click. Click. Sigh. Sigh. The next dozen went more slowly. He sipped, I sipped. He sighed, I sighed.
He slumped, I slumped.
The task before us was so much harder than we’d expected. Harder than we’d thought it would be to squint through each tiny set of numbers. It was harder still to slink quietly out of the fancy conference room, down the hall, and into the elevator.
They’d told us to let them know when we came across charges we didn’t recognize as ours. We’d have gladly followed the instructions if we hadn’t recognized every single ridiculous charge. Every single charge that had seemed like a good idea at the time.
On the way home we had a special moment. A new and regular reminder of our wonderful honeymoon. An anniversary date to go on the calendar. So romantic. We parked in front of the University Federal Credit Union, held hands, and took out our very first loan as a couple.