Eye of Banks, All-Seeing, All-Knowing

Have the banks wised up?

Our girlfriend (okay, this royal we shit is really weird sometimes) went to a Commerce Bank ATM on Saturday to withdraw $20. The first ATM didn’t have any money to give her so she had to repeat the same transaction on the machine one over. No biggy.

On Sunday, Commerce Bank left her a message asking her to call in and verify some transactions…

When she did, an automated machine read off her latest transactions and queried whether any of them sounded strange. She pressed yes, as it had listed two $20 transactions right next to each other for Saturday night. The human operator she was connected to said those were indeed the activities that had set the system off. The reason being that it was two identical withdrawals, one right after the other and that the withdrawals, get this, were in a part of town that our girlfriend doesn’t frequent. The Commerce rep chalked it up to a system glitch and sent our girlfriend on her merry way.

Perhaps Commerce just deserves some kudos for attention to detail. Then yesterday a reader emailed to say that her credit card was placed on hold by her bank two suspicious transactions: two online purchases totalling $5.50 at sites the account holder had previously shopped at.

These are just two in a million, but it got us wondering if anyone else out there has experienced an unusual amount of vigilance on the part of their credit card and/or banking companies lately?

If so, we would then hypothesize that after The Russian Connection ATM debacle, the financial institutions are getting hyper-paranoid about transaction fraud.


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  1. nweaver says:

    Actually, its probably the banks wising up to a problem:

    I have only had credit card fraud happen to me once. A $5 australian contribution to a charity (so

    WHat appeared to have happened is the fraudsters were using these very small transactions as a validity check: is this card valid and still active.

    Thus I think their computers are now flagging interesting “small” transactions as supsicious as well, to try to detect these and block the big fraud.

  2. non-meat-stick says:

    I recently made a transaction with a certain russian music downloading site. It was, i believe, my 5th transaction with them. The following day I received a call from Visa asking me to verify that I had made that transaction. I said I did and asked why they called to verify after I had already done business with them, the first time being a few months before the new year. He could not tell me why they decided to call this time. I thought it was weird…

  3. dancemonkey says:

    I’m originally from Monterey CA, and have lived in SF for the last ten years. One day a few years ago I rented a car to drive down for the day and visit with my family. By the next morning my card had been flagged.

    It was apparently suspicious that I rented a car, filled up the tank, filled it up again (in Monterey), and then again (before returning it). I know that gas stations are great places for fraud to happen since you just swipe it and there’s no verification.

    What I pointed out to the bank when I called to berate them for freezing my card was that this policy was really only designed to help them. If I’m the victim of fraud I’m only liable for $50 (which is rarely enforced anyway, and today most banks cut that to zero). This was an attempt to save THEM and the MERCHANTS money on fraudulent transactions, while inconveniencing me by freezing my primary method of payment.

    They never flagged my account again. I don’t know if they actually noted my rantings, or if it’s just coincidence.

  4. Harlan says:

    Yeah, I bought some shoes and things one day, 3 or 4 transactions totally about $300. Then when I went to Blockbuster to rent two movies for $10, which I charged on that same card, I got a call IMMEDIATELY on my cell phone, even before I started to leave. Discover ran down the list of purchases for the day to check that they were legit. All were. I was pretty impressed.

  5. The Unicorn says:

    I took my parents’ credit card with me when I went to Spain for three months, and during three months of daily and often hefty (hotel bills, plane tickets) activity, MasterCard never once even contacted my parents. Even though it was the same number, and they both remained at home, in St. Louis, the entire time.

    YET, my mom got once got a very-concerned phone call because of a Chicago restaurant tab under $100. Even though both her and my dad’s cards had both been used at multiple Chicago-area locations during the same time period.

    Let’s see, which is more plausible: two people drive six hours to a different city and, while there, eat a meal? Or, one cardholder leaves the country for three months while two of them stay behind?

    It’s not as though study-abroad programs are all that uncommon, but clearly their priorities are screwed up. It also doesn’t help that I did end up with some fraudulent charges on that account, which it took forever to get them to admit were bogus…but I’ve already ranted about that on a different post about Citibank, so I’ll decline to relive the joy.

  6. Mark says:

    I currently have a citi credit card and I filled out an application for the identical card in order to get a free sub from a promo. A Citi rep called me the next day and asked if I really wanted another card, I told him no, I just wanted the free sub. “No problem” he replied and sent me on my way.

    It was a very tasty sub.

  7. John Stracke says:

    I’ve run into the “small transactions to test the card” phenomenon before…from the merchant side. I have a few CafePress stores, and a couple of times (not recently) I’ve gotten orders from somebody in Nigeria, which were then cancelled almost immediately. Since CafePress (apparently) notifies me of a sale as soon as the order is submitted and the credit card clears, this would be a perfect way to make such a test.

    One of them wasn’t that small, actually; IIRC, it was something like 10 shirts, so nearly $200.

  8. DeeJayQueue says:

    I was working on a project for my Jeep, new floor panels, and I needed a rivet gun, rivets, & the sheet metal. I hopped over to Home Depot to pick up the supplies. My car had recently been stolen and along with it, all my tools, so I had to rent a drill which required a deposit on a card. I paid for the supplies, rental, and deposit on the same card but over 3 seperate transactions. I walked 100ft to Autozone to buy lugnuts and my card had been frozen. I called the number and the lady went over like 5 methods of ID, then asked me questions about deposits, withdrawls, card activity, etc. It took about 10 minutes but she reactivated my card at the end of it. I was thankful they have things like this in place. Even if I’m not liable for theft over $50 (which at my bank i’m not sure of) I live on my debit card because i have direct deposit so by the time they could identify the fraud and refund me I’d be starving and out of gas.

  9. mschlock says:

    Perhaps coincidentally, I came home today to a flag on my credit card and a message on my machine from Wells Fargo’s fraud department. I thought surely it was about the huge charge to the “American Marketing Association” from last week (which sounds so much like a shady organization but is actually just conference fees), but apparently, it was a charge to a DVD warehouse site I made yesterday. I guess most normal people don’t spend a couple hundred bucks at a time on DVDs, or something.

    One might say I deserve everything I get for buying that much Star Trek at once. Ahem.