Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Keep a close eye on your purchases with your receipts

After you charge a purchase, it’s a good idea, no matter how small, to reconcile it with your online statements. In a recent posting, there was a strong case made for using credit and debit cards to help keep track of your spending. But, these cards may also provide an opportunity for error, or downright fraud.  Unlike the immediate look and feel of cash, you may not notice an overcharge if you don’t look closely at your statements. Moreover, small, hard-to-notice transactions on your statement may indicate that your identity has been stolen. Thieves have been known to “test” a card by making a small purchase at first, only to set it up for a big one later.

Depending on the merchant, their credit and debit card technology may be somewhat archaic, which affects the time it takes to process and show up on your statement.  Unlike modern, point-of-sale transactions, where you swipe your own card and watch the transaction take place, signed-carbon copy transactions involve more manual data entry.  Another complication with these types of transactions is that if your hand writing is illegible, the merchant may enter the transaction incorrectly, especially if the carbon paper is crumpled. Or worse, they hope you don’t look at your statements closely and decide to slip in a digit on the invoice after you have left.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your receipts in an envelope, or some place easy to find, until the purchase posts. And, if you do feel like you are a victim of fraud, which the Examiner reported happening to patrons of popular DC restaurants, call the merchant first. If you try to call your credit or debit card company first, they will likely ask if you have tried to resolve the problem on your own. If you cannot get anywhere with the merchant, then it’s time to call in the big guns. Call your credit or debit card customer service number and explain the situation. Their fraud department will be on it immediately.