|Credit Card Theft Too Close To Home
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I dont have a column this week.
Actually, I do. This is it. My column,
"Not4Publication" is my column this week and every week; only I dont have
anything to write.
THE PURLOINED CARD: Actually,
this is Lils card. I cut mine into pieces after Citibank notified me that someone
had counterfeited it and run up an $11,000-plus tab in Pennsylvania.
You see, I returned from Florida last
weekend and with a shortened work week and our editor beginning her vacation (Tamara,
enjoy yourself) my workweek filled much of my reading, web surfing and thinking time which
frequently inspires my writing. So, as I sit at home on Sunday afternoon I am without the
inspiration I usually have to begin writing my column.
I almost always write on the weekends. The
workweek is much too hectic to find the several hours to do justice to my weekly words.
Writing a weekly column just aint easy. Especially when you have a full time job of
running a newspaper that interferes with your creative moments. Compound that with playing
catch-up and fill-in editor and you reach a Sunday afternoon crisis of non-preparation.
Like everything else, writing is largely
preparation. Although I rarely put ink to the paper (actually computer printer toner to
the page) before the weekend, column ideas, items and leads bounce off my busy being all
week long. Not so this past week. Or perhaps, my energy was elsewhere. But here I sit with
a full page to fill and lots of empty space on the paper and in my head. And a Giants
football game, mens tennis finals and a dinner appointment add to the problem.
The column, which varies in length, would
normally be a half page on a slow week. This is not a normal week. With Tamara on vacation
and a 64-page paper, I either fill more space now or face the problem of filling more
space later. Thats not usually the game. We usually have more quality stuff than
space but proofing and editing is a time consuming process and our chief cook and bottle
washer is busy cooking and playing with bottles in New Orleans while the rest of us
struggle in her absence. Its really not that bad, but Tamara like the rest of us
need to feel missed. We miss you T. Have a good time and hurry back.
So there I was Friday afternoon in the
newsroom, reviewing the progress on this weeks feature on stolen identity and credit
card numbers with crime reporter Liz Goff and acting editor Steve McGuire. As always,
Im reminding them to find a local angle to the story find the Queens gal or
guy who was a victim of such a crime.
On personal reflection, I had been rather
impressed by the credit card companies attempt at fighting credit card fraud. I had
just returned from Florida where in the corporate store of Levenger a catalogue for
readers my very own Citibank Gold was declined. It took a quick call on the cell
phone to the 800 number on back of the card to straighten things out. We had just been in
Orlando vacationing big time, Lil and Allison made a stop at the Boca Raton Mall, Town
Centre and the three of us sought refuge from the sun at a marvelous flea market. We were
giving the ol credit card a real workout.
The voice on the other end of the phone
asked if I had received the message they left on my home machine. Ive gotten such
calls before in the office when our pattern of charging has changed. It seems Citibank and
I assume other credit card issuers call cardholders to verify they are still in possession
of their cards when the computer picks up pattern changes. The Citibank operator asked a
couple of questions to confirm my identification; satisfied I was me and we were charging,
she reactivated my card. Lil was really happy.
Now that was a pretty local angle for our
feature. But read on it gets a lot more real.
I leave the newsroom and begin a meeting in
my office to review this weeks PRESS news budget. The meeting is interrupted by a
phone call from Citibank.
"Hello, Mr. Schenkler, this is
Citibank security, I think we have a problem"
Really, what?" I respond.
Where are you?" she asks.
"Im in my office, you just
"Please check to see that you have
your Citibank credit card."
"Im sure I do, why?"
"Please check," she insists.
I check; I have it; I inform her.
We go through the quick Citibank ritual
questions so that she can confirm that I am me.
The Citibank operator informs me that there
have been 26 charges for over $11,000 made in Pennsylvania on that day. It was Friday,
mid-afternoon. All the charges, she says were made on my card they can distinguish
between cardholders on the same account.
Since I was in possession of my card, she
concluded that somehow they got my name and credit card number and forged a credit card.
The charges were being made in person using a physical card not phone in or computer
charges. Those require a delivery address and the thief is telling authorities where they
My thief or thieves were out there with
what seemed to be my card with their phony version of my signature on back charging up a
storm on my account.
"As soon as we get another request for
charge authorization on your card, we will call the authorities," she informs me.
She reads me a batch of charges to
determine where Lil and mine ended and the fraudulent ones began.
Its pretty clear. It seems that the
days 26 charges in PA were the fraudulent ones.
There was a charge declined earlier in the
day in Manhasset. "That must have been Lil," I tell her. "My wifes
day is probably ruined."
"Worry not," the Citibank
operator said, Im canceling your cards and overnighting new ones to you."
"Youll get a printout to verify which charges were fraudulent."
I thank her; she thanks me. We hang up.
Not So Fast
Saturday morning UPS delivers two shiny new
credit cards to my house. Each is covered with a sticker informing that you must call an
800 number to activate.
I dial. I am asked to touch pad in the new
credit card number. I get an operator. I get asked the Citibank ritual questions. I am
told my new card is now activated. Charge away.
Saturday night we go out to dinner. . .
My card is declined. Luckily, I also have a
Discover card; they accept it.
I come home and call the Citibank 800
customer service number printed on the back of the new card.
I punch in my new card number. I get an
operator. She asks and I answer the ritual questions.
"What seems to be the problem, Mr.
Schenkler?" she asks.
"They declined my card," I
"Well, youre over your credit
limit. You have more than $11,000 in outstanding charges."
"No," I insisted. "That was
the old card that was discontinued because someone had counterfeited it and charged the
$11 thousand plus."
"But Mr. Schenkler," the Citibank
operator says, "we have no way of knowing it wasnt you."
"You have to submit an affidavit which
will be sent to you shortly."
"But the security division of Citibank
called me to tell me there was fraudulent activity on my card. They knew."
"Before we void the fraudulent
charges, we need the affidavit from you.
"Why didnt you send it with the
new credit cards?" I asked.
"We first have to get a printout of
outstanding charges. Itll take about seven days until you get it"
"So we cant use our new credit
cards for at least seven days?" I asked. "Why did you send them to me?"
"We had no way of knowing you were
over your credit limit. If you werent over the limit, you could use the cards. We
cant ask to increase the limit now because there is a problem with your
"Got it. Let me have a
Ill save you the dialogue. The
supervisor was very sorry understood the whole problem but there was nothing she
could do. No charging for Lil and me.
Life Without Credit
I just returned from Sunday night
dinner paid cash they didnt take Discover.
Citibank acted quickly to deal with the
fraud, but they didnt act so quickly to deal with this customers needs.
Ive been a Citibank Gold cardholder for about 12 years and always pay my bills on
time. Ive caused them no grief. They spotted the fraud. Why cut off my charge
privileges? Do they really want me to go get another card? Doesnt sound like good
business to me.
But the real question just a
mini-look at the problem is that the victim of the card theft, who doesnt
have to pay the bill, suffers nonetheless. Just ask Lil Master Cardless for a week.
Ill probably go to my bank and get a Visa or respond to the next offer that bombards
my mailbox. I think Citibank could have been more accommodating. Ill certainly
recover quickly from the experience. But I can imagine when the theft is more involved
identity theft righting the wrongs, regaining ones credit and surviving the
experience of dealing with operators with a list of rules on the other end of the phone
could be quite challenging, wearisome and often overwhelming. Its an experience no
one should have to go through.
here for the feature story and get yourself a backup credit card.
Emmy For Playing A Tribbie
|Former Tribune Editor Mitch Albom with his teacher and
friend Morrie Schwartz. The made for TV movie based on Alboms book was a big winner
at the Emmys.
It was quite a trip last night to sit and watch Hank
Azzaria accept an Emmy for playing Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie in a made
for TV movie by the same name. Jack Lemmon also won an Emmy for playing Morrie. The movie
won the Emmy for best Made For TV Movie and received two other Emmy nominations. In
accepting, both Azzaria and Lemmon paid tribute to Mitch Alboms writing.
Mitch took his first writing job with me, here at the
Tribune in the early 80s, moving up from reporter to managing editor during his
three-year tenure. He went on to a sports writing slot at the Detroit Free Press, one of
the nations leading dailies.
This weekends New York Times Best Seller List shows
that Mitchs Tuesdays With Morrie, has regained the number one position which it has
held much of the past three years. This true account about the celebration of life as one
faces death is in its incredible 151st continuous week on the Times list.
We take great pride in our successful alums. Mitch is one
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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