Drinking and Identity Theft

Several years ago, I went out drinking with some friends after work. Two days later, I was a victim of identity theft. Of all the potential causes of identity theft, this is one that doesn’t get that much attention, and yet it should. Drinking can lead to identity theft.

No, there’s not a biological link between alcohol and identity theft. There’s a social one. When we are out with our friends, we all get a little too comfortable. Especially if we’re in a familiar place. We may even be on a first-name basis with the bartender. We trust these people.

On this particular night, I didn’t know our waiter, but I trusted the restaurant. I’d been there before and always had good service. It was part a national chain. And I assumed this was not the type of place where someone would steal my credit card information. You know what they say about when you assume…

Anyway, after I handed the waiter my card, it took a long time to get a back. A long, long time. There was a problem because one member of our party had left early, and they were trying to verify that she had already paid her portion of the tab – or, at least, that’s the excuse they gave us. I didn’t think much of it, until two days later when someone tried to purchase a $150 set of poker chips with my card.

Fortunately, I check my accounts regularly. I was able to stop the transaction before it was finalized, and didn’t lose any money.

But I should have been smarter…

  • When you go to a bar, bring cash. Never open a tab, especially if the bar holds on to your card while the tab is open. Even if you know and trust the bartender, she’s not the only person who has access to that cash drawer where your card is being stored all night. Anyone else working there can open that draw, snatch up your card, and steal your information.
  • When you pay at a restaurant, pay with cash or pay at the front. If you have to give your card to your waiter, keep an eye on him/her, and don’t let them take your card out of sight. And never, regardless of whatever rational they give you, let them hang on to your card. If they do, demand to speak with the manager.
  • Of course, even if you are careful, anytime you use your credit card, you put yourself at risk. The person you hand it to could photograph it to use the numbers online later (or they could go old-school and write the information down). Even if you swipe the card at the register yourself, you have no way of knowing who has access to that card reader – there could be a card skimmer in it, and you’d never know.

 So what should you do?

  • First off, check your accounts regularly. Daily is best, but bare minimum check them weekly. If you see anything suspicious, call your credit card company.
  • If someone has made a fraudulent charge, cancel that card and order a replacement. For some reason, the representative at my bank told me to wait and see if anything else happened before he would cancel my card. 24 hours later, I was back on the phone with the bank, asking them to remove yet another pending charge for poker chips. If the person you talk to suggests that you wait and see, demand to speak to their supervisor and cancel your card.
  • Once you receive a replacement card, don’t forget to update all the businesses that have that card on file for automatic payments – otherwise you may be hit with some late fees.

One last thing you need to do if your card is ever compromised (and I write this with regret, because I didn’t do it): File a police report.

Once my card was cancelled, I knew I was fine, so I didn’t spend too much time thinking about how to catch the person responsible. I filled out an online report, but it wasn’t with our local police department. I never heard back. I regret that decision, because even though I was fine, how many other people got their card information stolen from this same identity thief? Maybe if I had filed a report, he/she would have been stopped. Maybe not. But to any of his/her future victims, I’m sorry I didn’t at least try.

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