A little over two months ago, my Bank of America debit card was declined at Barnes & Noble.
It was payday, so obviously there was a problem.
Turns out my bank (Bank of America) had frozen my account after some person that clearly wasn't me had tried to book a hotel in Alabama using my debit card information.
I canceled the card by phone and hightailed it over to a local BOA branch to see about getting a temporary debit card.
Given our recent BOA coverage in particular, I know the Your Money team is probably on a few of their publicists' $#*it lists.
But I will say one positive thing about banking with the country's largest lender: They don't mess around with identity thieves .
Within an hour, I had a fully functioning debit card in my hand and by the time I'd gotten my caffeine fix the next morning, the bogus charge was erased from my account. (See 11 awesome stories of lost wallets that were returned. )
And then it happened again.
A week ago, I noticed a $34 charge from online movie ticketing site Fandango.com. I hadn't used the site since July so it was easy enough to guess what had happened: Yet again, my debit card number had been stolen. (Perhaps now's the time to invest in some credit card condoms. )
I decided to call Fandango first, just in case it was a mistake on their end or I'd blindly signed up for some sort of monthly membership.
But I was right. Someone in Texas had charged four movie tickets to my card online.
"Would you like to file a claim with us or contact your bank?" the customer service representative asked.
Since he seemed less than enthused about their 7-10 day waiting period and BOA had already proven how speedy their service is, I went with the latter.
But the question made me wonder who's really on the hook for refunding fraudulent charges to consumers -our banks or the retailers who fail to
The answer is both, but it's up to us to choose which we'll go to with our palms held out.
I asked Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub.com whether I'd made the best decision going to BOA. He was quick to put me at ease.
"It's always best to go through your bank," Papadimitriou said, and there are three reasons why:
1. Merchants might be defensive and take ages to reverse the charges. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, banks must take care of any disputes within 90 days, but often they can (and do) act much quicker than that.
2. The fraud might be originating from the merchant itself.
3. Your bank account might be compromised and only your bank can protect you from future fraudulent charges from other merchants.
The man has a point.
With some jerk running around Dallas with my debit card information in his pocket, Fandango would probably have only been the tip of the iceberg.
BOA doesn't always catch fraud (this time I found the charge myself) but they were able to freeze my entire account instantly and issue me a new card straight away.
However, if someone's taken a huge chunk of cash out of your pocket, consider this point:
Fandango's customer service rep had a wealth of information about the guy who'd stolen my debit card number. His IP address, name, and home address were all on file and ready to turn it over to authorities if I decided to pursue criminal charges.
I didn't go to the police for a couple reasons: 1) It was only 30 bucks and BOA fronted me the cash, and 2) from the time I've spent covering consumer issues, I can safely bet this punk was probably just one cog in a massive ring of identity thieves .
But it was definitely a small comfort to know Fandango had so many clues at the ready.
Chalk it up as a lesson learned. Now see 9 steps I took to bounce back from a financial black hole >