Scammers

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I am tired of getting ripped off.

Over the last six months, several people have tried to defraud or steal from me.

Credit Card Fraud

I got my first credit card at age 18. Despite running as many purchases as possible through my cards, including countless online transactions, I never had someone compromise my credit card until last year. I guess I was due. On two different occasions, someone somehow got my credit card number and started running up charges. In November, someone spent maybe $200 at a Speedway gas station in Illinois. (Using a stolen credit card number to buy gas? Really? Why not something fun like an Apple store?) Then in December, someone in Tokyo ran up several charges totaling several hundred dollars at a gas station (gas again – what gives?) plus some other businesses I couldn’t figure out.

I caught the charges quickly thanks to Mint.com. I use its iPhone app to check my credit card balances at least once a day, enabling me to know my balance and see what charges appear. Each time I found something fraudulent, I called Chase, and they took care of it. The first incident was extremely easy. The Tokyo incident took at least three phone calls and was much more frustrating, but I think everything is wrapped up now.

Any informed borrower is simply less vulnerable to fraud and abuse. — Alan Greenspan

I have no idea how the thieves got my numbers. I only enter my credit card numbers at reputable, secure sites. I don’t fall for phishing emails. Apparently, thieves sometimes use cameras or special equipment to snag numbers at gas station pumps, so maybe that’s what happened. I doubt I’ll ever know. But I’m thankful that Chase dismissed the charges instead of making me eat them.

Texting Fraud

One October day while I was sleeping after work, I was rudely awoken by a strange text. It looked like spam and said something like, “You have been signed up for LongLifeLoveTips for only $9.99/month. Text STOP to cancel.” Half-awake, I was afraid to respond to a spam text, thinking my response would only confirm that the spammer had found a legitimate mobile phone number. I ignore spam emails for the same reason, so I figured it worked the same way.

Then I got my AT&T bill and saw that my friends at LongLifeLoveTips really had charged me $9.99.

Foolishly, I ignored that charge as well and hoped they would just go away. I was wrong. Then I got another text from them in November saying that my subscription had been renewed for another $9.99. I was especially upset because I hadn’t gotten a single Long Life Love Tip. (Is that a fortune? Sex advice? Health tips? Lottery numbers? Digits for someone who wants a date?) This time I texted back with STOP and got a reply saying my “subscription” would be canceled.

Finally, I got it through my thick skull that I needed to overcome my reluctance to complain to customer service people and actually contact AT&T. Naturally, I took the easy road and emailed them through their website. (I also figured out who was behind the scam and sent them a strongly worded email. I’m sure they repented immediately.)

Emailing AT&T actually worked. They responded within a day and put a credit on my bill the next month for both charges.

Auto Shop Fraud

Recently my car told me it was time to change the oil. Instead of standard service intervals, my Honda Fit (and many other Honda models) has a Maintenance Minder system that monitors the condition of my oil and keeps track of its remaining useful life. Once it gets down to 15 percent, I get a warning light. Cool, eh? It usually works out to around 7500 miles.

Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud. — Sophocles

I went to the local City Garage, which has treated us well in the past with no upselling pressure. This time the manager was there instead of the guy we normally talk to. She tells me my oil is very dirty and a quart low and recommends an engine oil flush. Never mind that I just checked the oil a week or so ago and its level was fine. I’ve never found the oil below full in 5.5 years of ownership. The color was brown when I checked it, but I would hardly call it “very dirty”. But the flush sounded like a good idea since I was approaching 70,000 miles and had never done it before. (turns out that was a foolish decision that did nothing but add $20 to my bill)

It got better after that. She asked (accusingly?) whether I’d gotten my oil changed somewhere else since I came in last. My windshield sticker said I was a few thousand miles overdue. I said no, I followed the manufacturer’s recommendations and the Maintenance Minder. She explained that the Maintenance Minder was set up for standard conditions rather than severe conditions, and that around here I should use the severe maintenance schedule due to my short trips and our “extreme heat and cold”. Yes, she actually referred to extreme cold in Dallas, where we haven’t dropped below 25 all winter and probably wouldn’t. We argued about it briefly, with me explaining that my driving pattern matched the normal schedule. She obviously wasn’t convinced but wisely decided not to press the matter too much.

The kicker was the air filter. The technician working my car brought my air filter in, and the manager said it looked dirty and recommended changing it. The filter is 5 months old. I replaced it in August 2011, according to the record I checked when I got home. I told her I thought I had changed it pretty recently. At that point she looked closer at it and then explained to the technician that she could still see through the filter, so it was okay.

Wow.

So we’re now in the market for yet another oil change shop. I could avoid getting ripped off by doing it myself, but I just don’t enjoy working on cars. Maybe I’ll try Christian Brothers and see if they live up to their name. Do you recommend anyone?

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