So, the other night I’m checking a few things on the iPad Pro and I opened my Wells Fargo app to look up something in my checking account. I don’t do that very often – and I literally haven’t balanced my checking account since college.
However, on this night, I just happened to look, and, right there, at the very top of the activity, was a transaction labeled “Pending” that indicated the bank was about to pay $198.93 from my checking account for a purchase made on fansedge.com, a site that sells clothing for sports fans.
Now, usually, when there’s a charge I don’t recognize on my checking account, it turns out to be something I forgot about, or the name on the bill is some variant of the merchant’s name or whatever. In this case, however, I knew for a fact I hadn’t bought $198 of sports apparel that very day.
There was a phone number provided for the merchant, so I called and I told the lady what had happened. I said I was notifying the company that this was a fraudulent transaction.
She asked me what order number I was calling about. I said I had no idea. I said I just had this $198.93 charge on my checking account, made apparently through my debit card. I said I’d never heard of the company or bought anything from it. The woman tried to look up the charge using the amount, my zip code and the last four numbers of the debit card, but she said she didn’t see any charge that fit that description.
I hung up and called Wells Fargo. It was at night so the call went to someone on the other side of the world, but the guy was nice and helpful. I took it as a good sign that I’d caught this transaction right away, while it was pending (though the bank had already subtracted the amount from my account). The Wells Fargo man from the Far East asked me a series of questions that I guess they’re required to ask.
“Are you sure it is not a purchase you made?”
“Yes, I am very sure.”
“Has anyone else had access to the card?”
“No, my card has been with me, in my wallet, where it stays.”
More questions like that.
I told him Wells Fargo needed to stop the payment and I asked when the money would be put back into my account.
Well, that depends, he said. The bank may have to do a fraud investigation, which could take a while. I said, “Well, since it’s still pending; maybe it won’t get to that point.”
The next morning when I got up, the transaction was still there. Only it was no longer pending; it was now complete. I called Wells Fargo and this time got someone in America. I asked why the transaction had gone through after I’d called and she said the bank has to complete transactions before it can dispute them. She said that’s how it works. I said that makes no sense to me but I told myself that they are the bank so they must know how to handle money.
Now, when someone steals and uses your debit card info, it could be anyone, right? Some waitress at some place you ate? An online vendor who sold you something one time? A crooked store clerk in one of a thousand stores? It could be anyone.
Only, here’s the thing …
I never use my debit card to buy anything.
Never. The only thing I ever use it for is to get money from ATM’s and I only use Wells Fargo ATM’s – never any others. And I would never, in a million years, use my debit card – the entranceway to my checking account – on the web.
So how could someone have gotten my debit card number and other information?
Then it hit me: A few weeks ago, I did use my debit card rather than my credit card.
Now, here’s the really weird part: the thing that happened when I did use my debit card and the reason I had used it that one instance in the first place.
I was picking up my car from being repaired and I was paying the bill, which came to about $400. I got out my MasterCard and slid it through the machine and the woman said the card was “declined.” Now, that amazed me because I pay off the card completely every month and it’s never even remotely close to the limit.
I said, “What do you mean? The machine can’t read the card?”
She said no – the card had scanned but had been declined.
“That card is perfectly good,” I told her.
She said I could try it again. I did and she said once again that it was declined.
At that point, I was really worried because I thought maybe someone had somehow gotten my credit card info and run the card over the limit. Unlike my debit card, I use my credit card all the time and everywhere.
At that point, I got my Wells Fargo debit card out – the only other card I had with me – and paid to get my car. I was extremely concerned about the credit card, so, as soon as I got in my car, I called my MasterCard and said, “I’m trying to find out why you declined my card?”
The man said they hadn’t declined it. I told him where I was and said I had just tried to use it three minutes ago and it was declined twice.
“We did not get a request,” he said.
He assured me the card was fine.
I used the MasterCard a little later and it worked fine, but all day I kept thinking that something was very strange about all that.
When I talked with Wells Fargo, I was going to tell them all this. But the lady said they don’t pursue it. She said I could file a police report and pursue it myself if I wanted to.
And, as a matter of fact I think I will; thank you very much. I’m not accusing anyone of anything yet, but I will say that I have a hunch that, this time, the thief or thieves picked the wrong debit card number to steal: One that has only been used once and whose owner will pursue them to the ends of the earth.
All this got me thinking about what a horrible idea it is to even have a debit card. It’s crazy. I watched some YouTube videos on the benefits of debit cards versus credit cards and several made a point that quickly became crystal clear to me – there are no benefits to using a debit card. It’s to the bank’s advantage not yours.
The banks tell you not to worry about your debit card because, as Wells Fargo marketing materials state: “Your Card comes with Zero Liability protection for unauthorized transactions.” Now, forget for a moment about the awful ambiguity of saying that you have “Zero Liability protection,” what the banks are trying to make you think is that you have zero liability – but the truth is that you may very well end up with a great deal of liability.
I decided to weed through all the small print on the debit card terms and conditions and see what that – rather than the marketing stuff – says.
Here’s the fine print (I’m going to bold a few words of it): “Your Card comes with Zero Liability protection for unauthorized transactions that you report promptly. If your Card or Card number is ever lost or stolen and used without your permission, you must tell us immediately. If you do, you will not be responsible for unauthorized transactions made using your Card or Card number.
“If you notify us about the unauthorized transaction after 60 days, we may not reimburse you for unauthorized transactions. “
Also, getting your money back can take a long time and can be a royal pain. The conditions state, “You may be required to provide documentation to support your claim, including an affidavit of unauthorized use and a police report. In addition, we will consider whether any negligence on the part of the cardholders has contributed to the transaction in question.”
Like the people in the YouTube videos said, in the case of fraudulent debit card use – unlike a credit card – You’re money is gone. With a credit card, the credit card company’s money is gone. Which of those is better?
I was very lucky because they only charged a couple of hundred dollars and I got the money back in a few days. But what if they’d cleaned my checking account out before I’d caught it? What if I had bounced a bunch of checks. I read recently that about three out of four Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. What if someone in that situation lost a lot of money through debit card fraud and it took them a long time to get it back?
Also as the YouTube videos point out, with a credit card, you get cash back or other rewards every time and the card may also qualify you for extended warrantees and other benefits. And you can rent a car with a credit card but usually not with a debit card.
And have I mentioned that with a credit card, the credit card’s money is at stake, not yours.
So, right now, before we leave, take your debit card out of your wallet, get some scissors, and cut it into tiny pieces. I’ll wait …
Good, don’t you feel better, safer and more relaxed now? I thought so.