COLUMBIA - With credit card fraud on the rise, banks are starting to create more ways for their customers to protect themselves. Frank La Mantia thought he did everything possible to protect his money.
"I save all of my receipts, I only use secure websites, and when the customer service person asked me if I knew the last three places I used my card, I knew exactly," said La Mantia, a retired New York University computer science faculty member.
It came as a surprise one late January afternoon when La Mantia received a flood of about ten emails from Discover congratulating him on his withdrawal from his bonus cashback fund. A withdrawal he didn't make.
"Within 15 minutes they took more than $600 from my account," La Mantia said. ""I immediately called the Discover help number on the emails."
He said Discover verified five withdrawals of $90 to a Dell Electronic Certificate, and four withdrawals of $45 for an Overstock.com Electronic Certificate - all from an individual he said Discover thinks hacked into their system to access La Mantia's account. The thieves were able to take all but $37 from the cashback bonus fund he had been saving for many years, all without making a single charge to his account.
Discover was unable to comment on La Mantia's specific case, but they confirmed they have a zero no fraud policy so he will get all of his money back. La Mantia also said Discover has assigned an investigator to his case in hopes of finding those responsible for the fraud.
"It was such a blessing when they told me I didn't have to worry and all of the money would be replaced," La Mantia said. "It's like when someone breaks into your house...it's a panic, you kinda think, 'Oh my gosh if they can do that what else can they do?'"
La Mantia said he wants to use his situation to warn other credit card users.
"Keep your eyes open, look at your statements, look at your emails," La Mantia said. "And look at it carefully, don't just assume your bill is an amount of your purchases so you're going to pay it. Go through it with a fine tooth comb and match it up with your receipts."
Jessica Johnson, of Central Bank of Missouri, echoes that advice.
"Keep a check register," Johnson said. "Checking your account through your bank's online system is not the same. I know people don't like to hear it, but computers make mistakes. You need to know what has hit your account, what hasn't hit your account, and what has hit your account two or three times by mistake."
Johnson also stressed the importance of verifying the source of a call, email or website before giving out personal information.
"Never give out information over the phone or online unless you are 100 percent positive of who is on the other end of that transaction," Johnson said. "Central Bank of Missouri has a third-party fraud monitoring department that will call customers if they see suspicious activity on their cards. They will never ask for your card number and it will always be a real person. It's very important for consumers to ask their bank its steps for fraud prevention and monitoring. There's also nothing wrong with hanging up and calling them back, you can normally tell if it's fraud or not by just doing that simple step. If it is fraud, a lot of times the phone will just continuously ring or someone may answer the phone like it's a personal line, or sometimes there's even a fake recording that will play and you will never be able to get in contact with an actual live person."
La Mantia's story is one that is being told more and more.
The 2012 Annual Card Issuers' Safety Scorecard Report by Javelin Strategy & Research said credit card fraud is up 87 percent since 2010. The report also said while the chance you will be a victim of credit card fraud is up, the rate at which banks are discovering fraud is increasing.
In the report, Bank of America ranked best overall and also best in prevention. Capitol One was the best in detection, and American Express, Bank of America, BB&T and Discover tied for best in resolving fraud problems.
Johnson said Central Bank of Missouri has a third-party 24/7 fraud-monitoring department that tracks accounts for suspicious activity. She said they also have limits on ATM and point-of-sale transactions in order to keep the loss down in the event your card was stolen. Johnson advises customers who know they will be making large purchases they wouldn't normally make, or will be going out of town and using their card, should let their banks know right away so your card doesn't get blocked while you are out of reach from the fraud department.
Tigers Credit Union Member Services Consultant Garrett Daniels said checking your bill once a month is not enough.
"Don't simply wait for the bill to come in the mail to look at your credit card and look at transactions," Daniels said. "Utilize the online banking, utilize account alerts that a lot of institutions provide to be aware of how your money is being spent when it's being spent, but also to keep an eye on transactions as they pop up."
Daniels also said he recommends keeping your monthly receipts.
"If there is a mistake online then having that receipt is proof," Daniels said. "You never think it's going to happen to you and you never think you're going to have that issue but you will realize it will be a much bigger headache of going through the process of getting it resolved. But, if you have that paperwork and documentation of what you did personally it helps out the process, especially from the banking institution's perspective, the more documents a member can provide to us the better we can hopefully serve them and get everything resolved."
The Federal Trade Commission also recommends you start integrating these practices into your daily life to avoid fraud:
• Carry your cards separately from your wallet to help minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet. When you do go out, only carry the one card you may need for that occasion.
• Never sign a blank receipt — make sure to draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
• Open your bills and/or check your online statements as soon as you get them, and compare them with your recent purchases.
• Make sure to let your card issuer know if your address changes or if you will be traveling
If you do receive suspicious emails or suspect unwanted activity on your card, call your card provider or bank immediately.