Wednesday, September 01, 2010

California = credit card fraud?

So recently, I went to California for a friends bachelor party (it was a blast, if you have not read about it you can see my take here), and when I returned to New York, I noticed that my REI Visa card was not working. I tried it a couple times, and each time it was declined.

So I called the customer service line for the card, and as soon as I entered my card information, I heard an automated message saying,

"Please hold, we are transferring you to the credit card fraud division."

I was, I think, justifiably nervous when the agent got on the phone and asked me to confirm several recent transactions, most of which had been denied (thus my reason for calling). They were all correct, and after confirming some more information, the agent genially told me that he would reactivate my credit card. I asked why it had been de-activated in the first place and he said,

"Well, we noticed that your card had been used in California, so we locked it automatically."

Excuse me? I asked him why the use of the card in California was an indicator, thinking he was just humoring me or something, and he said that California has the highest rate of credit card fraud in the country, and that a noticeable percentage of all transactions there are scams. I mentioned that I had lived in California for almost 30 years and never had a problem, and he told me that I was extremely fortunate. He also asked me to call the company any time I wanted to go to California in the future, so they could be prepared to combat fraud. Still incredulous, I asked,

"That is a little ridiculous ... I mean this is California, within the United States. Not Nigeria or some other country where false princes are always offering you a cut of their millions if you just open a bank account for them. Are there other states I should be worried about, or is it only California that is rife with thieves and scam artists?"

As I was joking, I was quite surprised when he responded with a list of 9 states, the Gulf states (Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana) plus Georgia, particularly the Atlanta area, California and Texas. But, he noted that California was the worst. As he was being completely serious and quite earnest, I thanked him for his help and hung up.

So there you have it, all visitors to California and the Gulf should be wary ... and for all of you living in California, well you are screwed. I recommend that you all call your credit card companies, particularly if they are US Bank, and let them know you live in California ... so they can watch for the inevitable fraud.

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