(james benedict brown) on the road

Anti-fraud, or how the mighty are fallen

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 27 December, 2007

We got a phone call at home yesterday from the kind people who manage my credit card. These are the same people who foolishly extend my credit line every so often with no real consideration for my salary or ability to pay, hoping that they might be able to tempt me over the edge to the dark side of payment protection plans and 17.9% APR.

The advantage (in this country at least) of using a credit card instead of a debit card is that the law affords you some basic protection against fraud and theft, and also some significant rights if a product your purchase turns out to be faulty, or doesn’t turn up at all. The responsibility of the credit card companies, and not the card holder, to foot the bill of any card payments that were not authorised, means that almost all card companies employ sophisticated computer systems that profile cardholders and their spending patterns.

This came in very handy a few years ago when someone close to me had here handbag cut and stolen from her person as she boarded at the rear of a crowded Routemaster bus in London. Before she had even managed to report the card, the credit card company had spotted some transactions that “were not in keeping with her normal spending profile”. And it was because of just such an anomaly that I got a call yesterday. A card agent confirmed my identity, and with much more friendliness than might be expected of someone obliged to work on Boxing Day, she asked me about some “unusual” transactions that had appeared on my account.

“We noticed that there were two purchases made with your Mastercard this morning.”


“One is for £12.50 with National Express, and the other is £4.50 with Megabus.”

“Oh. Well they’re both definitely mine.”

“They are? That’s fine then, sorry to have bothered you.”

Re-reading my credit card statements over the last few months, I can understand their concern. Returning to university has slowed my spending, and the only times when I have chosen to flex my rather worn plastic has been on occasions when the credit card has offered significant travel protection: airline tickets, car hire, hotels, etc. After six months of trans-Atlantic and European travel (all on the cheap, using air miles and credit from previously canceled flights) and with albeit minor purchases in Strasbourg, Paris, Frankfurt, Basle, Glasgow, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Edmonton and London, the folks at Mastercard had some trouble understanding what a man like me would be doing on the National Express. The spending profile that has been built up on me knows nothing of the £10 ATM withdrawals I make to survive in Sheffield, and the less-than-£5 grocery trips I make to Netto, Co-Op and my local veg shop. It’s nice to know that someone is watching over me, but it’s a shame they don’t actually know me that well.

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One Response

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  1. The bus stop « …ontheroad said, on 3 January, 2008 at 23:21

    […] my credit card administrators may not believe it, I do still occasionally travel by coach. Feeling that my holidays were getting a bit too manic […]

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