Why credit card fraudsters get to keep trying until they score

I have just experienced one of the bizarrest, stupidest situations I could imagine.

Yesterday, we got a phone call about our Bank of America Visa card. It was from their Fraud Department. Like anyone with more brain cells than his shoe size, I hung up and called the number on the card. Yep, the real deal: someone at a branch of a specified bank (let’s call it Union Bank) had tried to jack a four-figure cash advance from our card, something we’d only do in the gravest emergency. Props to the fraud trigger system. Fair is fair: they agreed to Fedex new cards to Deb and I, in separate states no less. At this point in the story, naturally, I’m delighted with their handling.

After I let Deb know, she suggested I find out where the transaction originated, and what would be done to prosecute it. I hadn’t thought about that, but she was dead right. Where it originated might give us a clue as to where/how the information was stolen. And if it had happened at a Union Bank branch, well, that was investigative gold. Banks video everything, from ATM stuff to standing in line trying not to get caught scratching one’s privates. If I knew where this bank branch was, I could contact the relevant law enforcement, assist them with any evidence I could provide, and maybe we’d snag the crooks doing this. Great idea, dear; I will do it.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I called the BOA Fraud Department again. The first time, I got someone with such a heavy accent it was problematic to communicate. I asked politely to speak to someone easier to understand and was sent to Silenceland; they hate that, but I’m not going to piddle around trying to decipher an extremely heavy accent. I called back, got someone a little more conversant in American English, and was put through to the next level. After they validated that I was the real me, it went something like this:

“Hi. Yesterday there was a fraudulent cash advance attempt on my account. You closed it and are sending me new cards, which I appreciate. The attempt came from a Union Bank. Could you tell me which branch, so I can notify the police?”

“We don’t have that information, sir. Since the transaction was refused, we did not save it.”

“What? Did you provide it to the police, so they can actually catch the goon?”

“No, sir. Since no fraud occurred, we did not.”

“How am I supposed to notify the correct police department if you throw away the evidence of the origin of the crime?”

“There wasn’t a crime, sir, only an attempt which was defeated.”

“Attempted crimes are also a crime. How will you ever stop the sources of crime if you don’t report them to the police?”

“That isn’t the same, sir.”

“Oh, yes, it is the same. If you swung a baseball bat at me, that’d be attempted assault, and the police would consider it an offense. One is not allowed to attempt felonies.”

“It’s our policy, sir. When the transaction is refused, we do not preserve the information. Only our law enforcement department could get it, and you have to be a police officer to contact them.”

“I assume I am not allowed to talk to your law enforcement department?”

“Correct.”

“So let me get this straight. The information is available to your law enforcement department. I can’t talk to them. And since I have no idea whose police have jurisdiction, and your company won’t tell me even though it could, it is impossible for me to initiate an investigation. And you do not see the Catch-22 in this, evidently.”

“That’s our policy, sir.”

“Your bank is the best thing that ever happened to thieves. No wonder so few of them are ever caught. You simply don’t care. Okay, I have all the information I need. Thank you for your hel–”

“Sir, we do care, we just don’t reta–”

“Ma’am, I am trying to get off the phone while I can still be polite. I realize you personally didn’t set this ridiculous policy. Far and away the wisest thing you can do right now is to let me end this call.”

“Knock yourself out, sir, have a nice day.”

===

I don’t fault her for repeating back a stupid policy, nor for being a bit of a wiseass at the end–I was getting pretty frustrated, although it’s not like I was abusive or anything. My issue, as should be clear, is with Bank of America’s Fraud Perpetuation department (as I now choose to call them). Here we are with a recorded environment as the evident point of origin of the felony attempt. The amount was the sort of amount that looks like it was chosen on purpose, to slip below a certain threshold of detection and notification. There’s a chance this was done by a professional criminal who gets information from garbage cans or is an insider at a business.

And you cannot get Bank of America to help the police chase them down, nor will Bank of America give you the information you need in order to do it yourself, unless you are a police officer. And, obviously, since BoA will not tell you the location of the crime attempt, you cannot know which police to notify. How many branches does Union Bank have? Hundreds, probably, in many states. Good luck.

Thus, credit card crooks keep on crookin’, thanks to the benign neglect of Bank of America’s Fraud Perpetuation department. And they evidently know it. Evidently there’s little risk at all. This system practically invites fraud.

I’m so glad we are firing these people as our checking bank. The only reason we keep this card is for the Alaska Air miles, for Deb to take trips now and then to visit family. And I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better just to buy the plane tickets ourselves.

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