Avoiding Credit Card Scams: Advice From Knowledgeable Readers

July 27, 2017

In a recent article, I described how a larcenous on-line firm billed me for a purchase I didn’t make, using a credit card number of mine that it found from an earlier on-line purchase. The responses to the article suggested that small-amount scams using unauthorized card numbers were widespread, and that multiple defenses were available to prevent them. Readers suggested all the defenses described below.

Use Citibank Virtual Card

Eligible customers with credit cards from Citibank can obtain single-use credit card numbers that can be used for on-line purchases but can never be reused. Not all Citi cards are eligible for this service, however, and when I followed instructions to see whether mine was eligible, I got lost. Hence, although many readers use the virtual card approach successfully in making on-line purchases, I am not one of them.

Lose the Card Periodically

When you report a lost card, the number on that card becomes inoperative and can’t be used to bill you for a purchase you didn’t make. A new card with a new number is issued. Losing a card is easy to do. If the lost card is one on which you have recurring charges, however, you have to have those charges shifted to the new card number, which is a hassle. Hence, it is a good idea to have separate cards for recurring charges and new one-time charges.

Shift the Burden to the Bank

When you see a credit charge that you don’t recognize, report it immediately to the bank as a “fraudulent charge for something you did not order”, and let them handle it. They give an immediate credit and launch an inquiry, which often ends the matter in your favor. On the other hand, the scamster does have your card number and may claim that you did in fact make the purchase, in which case the charge may reappear on your statement.

Using the State to Help You Get Your Money Back

If you paid a charge before realizing it was a scam, none of the approaches described above will get your money back. If the amount involved justifies the effort, you can file a complaint with your state attorney general. Frank Previte, a retired mortgage broker in Texas tells me that he has counseled numerous clients on using this approach, and that when it is done properly, it almost always succeeds. According to Previte:

The AG sends a letter with your complaint to the company.  No company wants to get this letter from the AG.  The company has a limited time to respond to the AG.  The AG sends you the response.  If it isn't what you want modify your complaint and send it back to the AG. I have used this hundreds of times on scams, items wrongly filed with credit bureaus, wrong person -- not me, etc.  We have had a successful outcome in every single case.  


I looked into this facility in my home state of Pennsylvania and found that the procedure to be followed was well-defined, including a Consumer Complaint Form that lays out all the information the AG would need to pursue the complaint. No, I did not use it to try and retrieve the $37 for which I was scammed last year. Filling out the form properly would have taken at least an hour, maybe two. If the amount involved had been $3700, I would have done it.

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