Happy Black Friday, folks. This is the day that traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season. Personally, you couldn’t pay me enough to get up at 4 in the morning to go watch the dregs of humanity duke it out at Walmart over a 97″ LCD HDTV that also cleans the kitchen and turns straw into gold for the low, low price of $29.95, but…to each his own, I guess. Maybe Mom really will appreciate the gift that much more knowing that you earned a black eye and misdemeanor assault charges during it’s acquisition. Nothing says, “I love you” more than the willingness to risk jail time, right?
Unfortunately, the start of the joyous holiday season also usually marks an increase in the ways that people will try to screw over their fellow man. They will break into your car while you’re in the mall searching for that perfect sweater for Aunt Jo, and help themselves to whatever purchases you’ve already stored there. They will canvas your neighborhood, looking for houses to rob while the owners are off somewhere over the river and through the woods visiting Grandma. They will steal your credit card number, and use it to buy World of Warcraft accounts for themselves and 15 of their closest friends. Basically, if there is a way to make a buck that involves spitting in someone else’s cup of yuletide cheer, there is a lowlife out there somewhere that will find it and run with it. Merry Fucking Christmas.
While you may not be able to avoid the machinations of the more determined thieves, vigilance can definitely help as a deterrent. If you see someone acting sketchy in the mall parking lot, let security know. Don’t leave packages in your car where they are visible to passersby. I never used to think twice about having online purchases delivered to my home…it was always so much fun to come home from work and find boxes at my doorstep! Two Christmases ago, however, my neighbor caught someone going floor-to-floor in our building – I live in a condo – stealing packages. It was just dumb luck that he happened to come home and catch the guy in the act, before he made it to our floor. If he’d gotten away with the new boots I’d had delivered that day, there would’ve been hell to pay! Now, whenever I shop online, I have my loot delivered to me at work.
Another example of vigilance at work is seen through fraud alerts. Especially at this time of year, banks and credit card companies monitor purchases carefully, looking for signs of foul play. Many consumers have, at one time or another, received a phone call or an email from their credit card company or their bank saying, “Hey, we noticed that someone just bought a one-way ticket to Mozambique and 457 pairs of Manolo Blahnik’s with your card – just wanted to make sure that you are in fact opening an upscale shoe store on the African coast, and not the victim of credit card fraud.” It’s comforting to know that they’re watching out for us.
Personally, I have never received one of these alerts until this week. I enjoy the convenience of purchasing things online, and have been lucky thus far in that I’ve never been a victim of fraud or theft. (Though at this moment I am frantically searching the room for some wood upon which to knock!) In the last month I’ve made several purchases – some of them fairly large – and at last, one of them has sparked a “we want to alert you to potential fraudulent activity” email. I used my credit card to buy plane tickets to both Florida *and* Oregon within hours of each other. No fraud alert. I ordered a brand-spankin’-new Samsung tablet and paid extra for 2-day shipping. No problem there. I booked hotel rooms in 4 different Oregonian hotels – I live in Maryland, and have only been to the West Coast once in my life – and still nothing.
So what, you ask, was the purchase that my bank thought might be fraudulent?
I went to the grocery store – in the town where I live – that I visit at least 4 times a month, and spent $103 on groceries.
I hadn’t even made it out of the store yet when the email hit my inbox. “Hey Jen, we notice you just bought groceries, but we are pretty sure we heard that you can’t cook for shit. We think someone might have hacked your account. Call us. Now!”
Thanks for having my back, M&T.