I spent a recent Sunday the way I do many Sundays throughout a year – tromping through the woods in South Carolina, catching critters, watching birds, and using my bank card over and over at a sketchy Chicago gas station.
So the last part wasn’t part of my normal routine. But I was pleased that my bank contacted me to let me know that they were fairly sure I was not, in fact, withdrawing money from 800 miles away. Repeatedly. At a gas station in a neighborhood where I learned, upon viewing it on Google Street View, that most every business has bars over the windows.
I was first notified via text message, asking me to verify three previous purchases. I recognized one of the purchases, a $6.94 gourmet breakfast from McDonald’s earlier in the morning. The other two? Not so much.
My bank and I aren’t regular text buddies, and I wanted to make sure that it was not some scam text that somehow knew how much I had spent on breakfast. Unlikely, sure. But I figured a phone call to the bank would be my best option.
I reached an operator and explained that I had received a text regarding suspicious transactions. She verified who I was through a series of questions. One of the questions was in regard to recent deposits. I said, “If you are going to ask me about pretty much anything other than breakfast at McDonald’s this morning, I’m probably not going to know the answer, since my wife is the grown-up and handles all the banky stuff. Can we do mother’s maiden name or something?”
Eventually I was able to convince her I was me and not in Chicago. She canceled the card and put in motion the process for me getting a new one. I told her that I was about two hours from home and would need to be able to get access to money at some point today, as my kids would probably like to have dinner. (A gourmet breakfast lasts just so long.)
She informed me that when I was back home, I could call back and they would authorize a one-time use of the card so that I could get money from a bank machine.
Hey, kids – fun fact she failed to tell me – that lovely service stops at 5 p.m. on Sunday, so if you are heading out to grab a bite at 6, you’re outta luck! And outta cash! Hooray!
The next morning, I went to the bank to check on the account and make sure everything was squared away. Upon reviewing the account, I learned I had also made a purchase in New York. I was quite the jetsetter that Sunday.
My new card is on the way, and I currently have a temporary card that says “Valued Customer.” Take a look at your current bank card. Does it say “Valued Customer.” Didn’t think so. I’m special.
I’m not sure how my card number got lifted. I’ve heard a range of theories from various people, ranging from the plausible to the paranoid. I’m not going to stress too much on how it happened. It happened. The bank caught it. I lost no money. It cost me some time and a short pinch of panic. No sense in spending copious amounts of energy fretting over how it happened.
It is reassuring to know that the safety net is there by my bank. They said it would be a good idea to put travel alerts on our account on the occasions we do travel to avoid unwarranted freezes of our funds. I’ll remember that this summer when we set off on our family vacation. Sketchy Gas Stations of the Midwest will be one for the family scrapbook.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.