The Better Business Bureau sent out a news release last week, reminding us all that we’re less vigilant than we ought to be.
The bureau said “scammers are banking on the fact that many consumers don’t check their credit card statements all that carefully.” The crooks are laughing all the way to the bank, as money from millions of fraudulent charges rolls in.
The scam has earned the shorthand name of the “$9.84 Scam,” based on the charges that are without exception under $10. Each charge is small enough not to raise many red flags on the part of card issuers or of many consumers who look over their monthly statements.
Those consumers may have noted small charges for a “service fee,” “maintenance fee” or other nonspecific terms. They may have felt that, while the charges were nothing they had authorized, it wasn’t worth the hassle of disputing. Multiply their apathy by a few thousand other consumers, and you’ll warm the heart of any scam artist.
Former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs writes extensively about cyber security. Krebs did some digging and found that the person who set up one website charging $9.84 for a supposed product or service had set up 230 other sites. Further research on some of those sites turned up a trail of $9.84 fees. Some of those domains were set up over a year ago, so it’s unlikely that the data breach of Target’s computers was the trigger.
There’s lots of speculation over where the scam began and where it might end. Once word got out, scammers likely changed the amount of their phony charges a little. The lesson for consumers is simple: check your statement carefully for false charges; if you find any, call the number on the back of your card and dispute them.
Unauthorized charges may mean your card information has been compromised. Err on the side of caution and ask for a new card. Security experts advise that you never lend your card to anyone, and don’t leave cards, statements and receipts lying around in your home, office or car.
As always, be cautious when ordering over the phone or online. When giving your account number over the phone, be sure the person you’re speaking with actually represents the company with which you’re doing business. Never sign a blank charge slip, and draw lines through blank spaces above the total so numbers can’t be changed.
You can read about the scam investigation in detail at Brian Krebs’s blog, https://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/01/deconstructing-the-9-84-credit-card-hustle/.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.