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Simple Living



The Summer of My Discontent

by Nikki Willhite

It always happens to the other person, right? That's what I thought, until this summer. My finances use to be so simple. Now I find myself jumping through hoops, trying to get bank and credit card fraud straightened out.

It all started in June with the computer hackers. You heard about it, right? Well, maybe not, as it was kept quiet for as long as possible. Miss a few nights of the 6 PM news, and you probably missed it.

One of the major storage facilities in the USA of credit card information was compromised by computer hackers. They took a lot of Mastercard data, as well as data from other credit cards and bank account numbers. Just what they took is still not being disclosed.

This hushup led to a very nasty surprise by some of us. I was hit twice- one credit card, and also my primary banking account.

The bank account was the biggest surprise. It came as quite a shock to learn that someone could purchase items on the Internet with nothing but your bank account number. In my case, my number was used to buy items from a Smoke Shop, probably because cigarettes are easily turned into cash.

I went into my online Billpay one day and noticed the balance in my account was not correct. I looked at my transaction history, and saw the fraudulent charge. Not only do we not smoke, but I have never ordered anything on the Internet with my banking account number, or even a debit card.

I immediately called the 800 number for my bank. To this day I do not understand why the girl on the phone was so nonchalant about the erroneous charge. I had to insist on closing down the account, which was a good thing because they tried to hit it again after it was closed down.

So began the long process of paperwork. This account had been my primary account for a couple decades. I had automatic withdrawals and paycheck deposits set up with this bank. Once the account was closed, I would not be able to access any money unless I went into my local branch.

Endless forms and paperwork would be coming to the house for my signature. Some of it would have to be notarized.

I also had all the numbers memorized to my account, and enough checks to last for many more years. I had been writing checks so long at this bank, I was approaching check # 10,000, which made them very easy to cash.

I was not a "happy camper". Then to my surprise, after the new box of checks arrived at my house, (starting at a low number), a charge of $17.25 was posted to my account for that one box of checks. I was not told I would be charged for that one box of checks. I could have purchased them at half that price on the Internet.

One day when I was at my local branch talking to one of the mangers, I was told that another one of their customers was also "hit", and also with a charge to the same Smoke Shop. There was no doubt in my mind that my stolen number was associated with the June Computer Hacker Fraud. I was being burdened, and my time taken up by something that was obviously not my fault and to which I had been given no warning.

The final straw came 6 weeks later. By this time, I was going into my bank and charge card Internet sites every morning to make sure everything was okay. On this day, I discovered a charge for $2.00, which was labeled "Bank Call".

My husband had left the day before for the South to handle insurance claims from Hurricane Dennis. Thankfully he did not have to witness my reaction to seeing this charge. Yes, $2.00 is not a lot of money, but it was the last straw, the last "insult to injury". I never call the bank unless there is a problem, and this, once again, was not my fault.

I have learned to be somewhat aggressive in my old age. I called my bank (the 800 number), and let them know that I was not happy about the charge, and why, I also told them that I did not appreciate the charge for the new box of checks.

I was put on hold, and when the girl came back to the phone, she told me they would remove the $2.00 charge, which I expected, but also that she would reverse the charge for the checks also. One small victory for me- and another lesson in the value of speaking up.

As far as the credit card, that is still an ongoing investigation that is not resolved. When I was younger, I was not as wise with my credit cards. Several times when making a purchase at a department store I was offered a substantial discount if I opened a credit card with them, I would take advantage of the offer just to get the discount never use the card again, but fail to close the account.

I did not realize at the time that too many open charge accounts can lower your FICO score, costing you more money in the long run because of higher interest rates.

Now that you can access your credit report free online, <> it is an easy matter to see how many open charge accounts you have, and to write letters to close them. The particular card that was fraudulently used was from an old account that had been used one time 5 years ago.

We were actually called by that credit company one Saturday morning, to ask if we had used the card. The charges were obviously suspect. The user didn't have the security number on the card, or the expiration date.

The credit card company told us they didn't let the charges that were made on that card go through- yet we received a bill for those charges and as much as we have protested, continue to have to jump through hoops and wait for the outcome.

Again, the moral is to close open accounts that you are not using, unless it will hurt your FICO score. There are a lot of factors that go into your FICO score, and I am not an expert in that area. In our case, with a long credit history, it was no problem, and had we closed them, we would have had less exposure and avoided the whole mess.

Take from this article what you will. I use to think nothing would ever happen to me. I was so careful. I attached my purse to my arm with Velcro when I left the house! I shredded documents, and didn't even use my debit card. I never put outgoing mail at the curb. I thought I was safe.

Now I know anything is possible, even identity theft. I still do most of my shopping on the Internet, as I find it cheaper and more convenient, but I check my banks on the Internet every morning.  I keep money in more than one bank in case one account has to be closed.

I now take identity theft more seriously, and can only imagine what a nightmare that would be. I am leery of giving checks to people I don't know. For instance, I would never buy anything now on Ebay with a check. I only use Paypal.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Be vigilant, use your credits wisely, and speak up so that people or institutions do not take advantage of you.

About the Author: Nikki Willhite, mother of 3 and an interior design graduate, has been writing and publishing articles on the topic of frugal living for over a decade. Visit her at - where you will find hundreds of frugal living tips and articles. Frugal Happy Families- more than just money! 


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