When it comes to financial fraud, the old-timey scenarios are disappearing fast. You know, like someone rooting through your bank statements in the recycling bin, or stealing your wallet from a hotel room. Today, this kind of theft is almost entirely digital, and it’s become a rising problem in an increasingly cashless society. In a CPA Canada poll, 32 percent of respondents reported they’d been the victim of financial fraud at some point in their life, of which 74 percent were credit card-related.
Before we get all “alarmist local news broadcast” on you, there are lots of systems in place to protect victims of credit card theft. The major credit card companies all have zero liability policies for consumers—as long as you don’t give out your PIN or anything—so you won’t be stuck with the bill if someone uses your card number to buy $9,000 worth of Chick-fil-A (true story). And thank god, since the majority of credit card thieves have more expensive tastes. According to MarketWatch research, some of the top items bought with stolen credit card information were Rolexes, Louis Vuitton handbags, and diamond engagement rings (with World of Warcraft gold not far down the list).
To ease your worries, we reached out to Canadians to discover their weirdest stories of credit card fraud and found out what we can do to protect ourselves from similar situations.
When getting defrauded is pretty chill
I was at work, and I got a phone message from my bank saying that my credit card had been compromised. At first I thought that was a scam, but the number they told me to call them back at checked out as legitimate when I Googled it. I called, and they told me that they’d found some suspicious activity on my account. There were purchases all over the United States for the weirdest stuff. Someone in Denver bought an ATV, someone bought fast food and makeup in California, and there were a couple of other cities too. All of these purchases were made in the same day. It’s freaky. Like, is there some message board for thieves around the world to share your info? But the bank caught it right away, cancelled my card, and sent me a new one. It was just a weird, funny thing that happened. I didn’t really have time to stress about it. — Robin F. Toronto
Verdict: If things look amiss on your account (like, you’re not really the type to take a spontaneous trip to Moscow in February), your bank will probably know before you do. Just in case, you should regularly check your transaction history for unexplained charges.
The ol’ “money laundering via water park” con
I realized I’d been scammed when I went to use my credit card and was told it was maxed out. I thought, “That’s weird, I know I didn’t spend that much money.” So I looked at my statement, and found a charge for season passes to a water park in Ottawa. I think that’s a way for thieves to get their money out when they’re stealing credit cards — they can easily turn the money into cash when they sell the passes later. Or maybe they wanted to use the passes themselves. But like, of all things? A water park? I immediately called my bank, and they were super cool about it. I’m in British Columbia, and I’d just made purchases here, so they could quickly cross-reference and realize it was impossible for me to buy that stuff across the country. I’m very attentive about my credit cards, so I have no idea how the thieves got the number. Maybe I went somewhere shady? Now every time I go to gas stations or places like that, I’m always wiggling the machine to make sure it doesn’t steal my information. — John ‘KilicK‘ G., Vancouver
Verdict: It doesn’t hurt to take precautions. Cover your PIN when you’re typing it in at ATMs and machines, and watch closely when merchants take your cards to make sure they don’t sneakily scan them or double-swipe.
A real Spain in the butt
My girlfriend and I had our credit and debit cards stolen while we were travelling in Barcelona. We only had a couple of hours before our train, but I really wanted to go swimming before we left the city. We ran to the shore, and I took a quick dip while she stayed and read a book on the beach with our bags all around her. This must have been a pro, because our card pouch was in a bag that was literally touching her thighs. Thankfully, we kept our stuff in separate pockets — our passports were in her fanny pack — so it was just the cards they got. Cancelling them was easy, but since we were heading back to Canada in a couple days, it didn’t make sense to wait for replacements to be sent to us or bug our parents to wire money. We just had to get by on like 90 euros for the last two days of our big vacation, which was disappointing and kind of stressful. — Annie S., Victoria
Verdict: These days, physical credit card theft is rarer than the digital kind, since thieves know you’ll cancel your card as soon as you realize it’s missing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t Stay Alert and/or Stay Safe while travelling. Keep a close watch on your belongings (fanny packs are always a stylish option), and familiarize yourself with your bank’s lost card policies and procedures before you go off to find yourself in that Indian ashram.