Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Keep an eye on your accounts

...especially if you're not using them.

I check my bank balance and credit cards regularly, but I recently let something slip by that could have been catastrophic. I've been a bit behind, moneywise this month. I just got back from vacation and I've had some unexpected expenses as well as a slight dip in income. So I've been less diligent with checking the balance on my American Express. Mostly, it's been because I've been hiding my head in the sand.

I looked at it a couple days ago, and found a mysterious charge for an airplane ticket from Zurich to London. I would love to be flying from Zurich to London, but sadly, it was not a ticket I purchased. I immediately opened a claim stating that this was an unauthorized charge, and that it should be investigated. Then I called my card and requested a new card with a new number and expiration date. The girl I spoke to said, "But you just requested a new card five days ago."

No, I did not. This is when things started getting a bit scary. This person had compromised my card, made a major purchase and had requested a replacement card--to what? Intercept delivery and run around with my card number? Who knows. That's not going to happen. Because I check my balances pretty regularly, I caught this early, but if I wasn't paying that much attention, who knows when/if I would have noticed.

When I was in high school, I went on a school trip to Kansas City, MO. I used my debit card to purchase some CDs. A couple months later, my mother (who was my banker at the time) noticed a point of sale (debit) purchase coming through on my account for $36.72. Since I rarely used my debit card at that time, this was odd, and it was more money than I had in my account. It was also for the purchase I had made in Kansas City two months before.

What had happened, was that the store had screwed up its credit card sales that day and had not charged all of the cards used. To get their money, they just re-ran all the sales of the day, and those who had already paid got charged again. This is illegal, but if you've used a credit card and dispute the charges, the credit card company will deal with it. Since I had used a debit card, the store had to issue the credit back to my account, and my mother spent hours on the phone trying to explain that to the people who should not have done this in the first place.

Had I not noticed, I would have overdrawn my account, and potentially not gotten my money back. Having my mother at my bank was certainly helpful, but most people don't have that.

A friend told me just a few days ago, that she had accidentally authorized her student loans to take out two payments per month from her savings account. Unfortunately, she didn't catch this until her savings account was wiped out, and then her car broke down almost the same day costing $700 she would have taken out of savings.

Other people can screw up your money, and you can do it yourself. All you have to do to combat this is just pay attention. Check your credit cards online once a week, maybe once every two weeks for the ones you're not using. Check your bank balances weekly. Either maintain your checking account register, or be mindful of where your money is going. This is why I make most purchases on one credit card, and make a payment every time I get paid. This helps me be constantly aware of where my money is and how much I've spent.

If there is a snafu somewhere, it is considerably easier to catch it right away.

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