The voicemail was a bit garbled however the introduction,clearly from my bank, and the subject, fraud activity, motivated a return call. Mrs. Monetarist had in frustration informed me a few minutes ago that her debit card hadn't worked and the bank had let us a message, I knew something was up and that it probably did involve fraud.
The debit card on my business account wth this same bank had similarly 'hiccupped' a couple weeks ago. That presentation was framed by the officious email below:
Dear Business Debit Cardholder:
We recently determined that a number of our Business Debit Cards have been used to conduct fraudulent purchases at many locations throughout the United States.To protect your account, we have decided to suspend your ability to use the card for anything other than a cash withdrawal at an Automated Teller Machine. Protecting your account is our primary concern and is the reason why we are taking this very unusual action.We have already initiated a process to issue a new card to replace your existing card. You should receive this card in the mail within the next 8-10 days.Should you have any additional questions, please call our Customer Service Department at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Taking these extra precautions will assure us that your account will continue to be protected. Thank you for your business, and for your understanding during this time.
Sr. Vice President
This seemed a tad odd to me at the time; my business debit card had been declined earlier that day and although I had some cash with me, if I had been at say a business lunch, it would have come across like that commerical where the fellow uses a credit card with a superhero on it much to his German's clients' amusement. In my instance, the bank was told that I wanted the new card express mailed to me, which they did, however it of course did not work and I had to pay a visit to my banker. Folks know me, we engaged in some chit chat, and I left with my antennae up that there was some doublespeak going on.
So I will admit I made the call to the lady with my 'fraud reference number' (per the voiciemail) in hand and with let us say a skeptical viewpoint.
After I provided my officious fraud number, she started off on script stating that there was a fraud alert on my account due to possible fraudulent activity, and that she wanted to go through some suspicious charges with me.
She started off by describing a charge at a gas station and at a convienence store from Skokie Il. ( a suburb of Chicago) garnering no response from me she described a charge at another gas station on the same day. All the charges were less than $50 each.
I replied to her, I would hope that you cancelled my card for more than just that. A sharp intake of breath was registered... she continued by describing another charge that same day from an Office Depot and yet another convienence store. I interruped harshly, do you have anything more substantial? She paused and responded, $37 for a charge from Champaign Il.(a downstate college town) for BigBus...
I immediately conferenced Mrs. Monetarist on the phone and informed the 'fraud fraulein' that Missus had my debit card. Milady was a bit flustered for her debit card, from the same institution, had stopped working and she had been embarassed twice at a merchant when mine also was rejected.
This time though with my wife on the phone, the charges that were read were different, the gas station charges had been replaced by a scholastic book order, the slightly pornographic sounding BigBus was now Whole Foods. 'You made me look like an idiot for that? ', my dearest harumphed... at which point she was told that the freeze was applied when she was trying to make a $200.00 car seat purchase that looked 'suspicious'. ( 'Thomas the Tank Engine', 'organic milk' and 'baby car seats' obviously sending off the appropriate alarms at the bank).
I interjected, 'Why are all the charges different now?'
The obviously nervous response , ' oh, oh disregard those previous charges. I was looking at the wrong screen.'
And that was where the realization hit me as to what the fraudulent activity was.
'Never mind honey. Wasn't you, they cut everyone off. They flushed out their system..this is just a bunch of nonsense to cover it. Lady go tell your management not everyone is stupid. Activate the cards now.'
Which she did. I confirmed what my reestablished limits were. In fact they were doubled.
I do have sympathy for my bank and the poor representative that had to deal with us on that call. Back in my cowboy days I owned a local exchange and interexchange carrier, and when the air went out of that balloon, it hit fast. One especially lucid recollection was when my interexchange supplier (folks that resold the Worldcom and Sprint networks to me) was put on credit hold and had all their services blocked which in turn killed the 1+ dial tone to all my customers. Waving my arms I told staff to blame it on a fiber cut, broke the office down into different groups of the alphabet, and we tried to make lemonade out of lemons.
My bank's fraud activity shutdown was no different than my fiber network cut.
For my bank, the shutdown was a reboot, a reissuance of cards and a resetting of limits in order to, I would suppose, better qualify for TARP.
In order to flush out the system and 'pretty up' their books they committed that which they were falsely representing.
Desperate times and measures.
S&P: These Ten Retailers Will File For Bankruptcy Next
39 minutes ago