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OUR PLASTIC PLAGUE; Credit card frauds cost us pounds 411m a year.

Byline: JANE BARRIE & LEANNE McGRATH

IT'S your worst nightmare... someone is running up a huge credit card bill in your name, but you know nothing about it.

You only find out you have become the latest victim of the plastic plague when a statement pops through your letterbox telling you to pay up.

Credit card fraud cost UK banks pounds 411million last year, 30 per cent more than in 2000. New figures from the Association for Payment Clearing Services show losses in Scotland alone amounted to pounds 12million in 2001.

I have been inundated with pleas for help from victims of the card fraudsters - innocent people such as office worker Lisa Millerick, who ended up with a credit card debt of pounds 1500.

Lisa, 27, signed up for a Visa card with supermarket giant Tesco, but it was stolen before it was delivered to her home in Erskine, Renfrewshire. She only realised what had happened when Tesco wrote to tell her she had exceeded her limit.

She said: "I was absolutely horrified. After all, I was expecting my gleaming new card through the post, not a statement demanding pounds 1500."

Lisa complained and Tesco promised to investigate. She said: "The statement said I'd spent pounds 250 in a pet shop. There were also listings for supermarkets and children's clothes shops. They were nothing to do with me as I'd never even had my hands on the card."

Tesco apologised and cancelled Lisa's Visa. She said: "They were very helpful. But I was stunned at just how easily something like this could happen."

William Wilson, 59, called me in after spending more than a year trying to solve a Visa card problem. He could not believe it when he received a pounds 2738 bill from Barclaycard.

When he complained, Barclaycard insisted there was no mistake. William, from Stonehaven, said: "I was so stressed I had difficulty sleeping."

His wife Isabel, 59, spoke to the firm and was told the account was clear and not to worry. William explained: "We tore up the cards hoping that would be an end to the fiasco. But every month there was a new transaction on the card. Barclaycard told me it was because new cheques were coming in, but my wife and I don't have a cheque book."

Isabel contacted Citizens Advice and wrote to the card company, but got nowhere fast.

At one stage, the Wilsons were being forced to pay back pounds 1700, but after I got involved, Barclaycard promised a probe into the fraudulent use of the card. William said: "It's ridiculous. Barclaycard's attitude is 'you are wrong and we are right' and it is difficult to find anyone who's willing to help." Barclaycard have now assured me they will solve the problem. They said: "Hopefully, we'll be able to clear the matter up very easily."

Jim Alexander, 46, from Irvine, Ayrshire, was horrified when his Mastercard was used by fraudsters - not once, but twice. He spotted a debit of pounds 999 on his card last summer and got straight on to Alliance and Leicester.

They told him it was a payment to a motorbike spares company in Essex. Jim, a computer operator, said: "I'd used my card the very same day in Irvine so obviously they knew I hadn't bought stuff down south." Alliance and Leicester cancelled the card, but months later, Jim received a further statement.

He said: "Someone had used my new card number to pay for course fees with a further education college.

"I have no idea how they got the details as I'm careful never to let it out of my sight. Alliance and Leicester are looking into the matter, but have told me not to worry. As far as I'm concerned, I don't owe a penny."

Clerical worker Andy Hume, 33, was charged more than pounds 100 on his credit card for a night's stay at a New York Holiday Inn on 57th Street.

He wasn't even in New York at the time, and the bill was for a credit card which he had cancelled almost a year earlier. It seems somebody had used his old card number to visit the Big Apple.

Andy, 33, said: "I just couldn't understand it. It's very strange, as somebody obviously got hold of the number, or Barclaycard forgot to cancel it."

Andy, from Stafford, Staffordshire, contacted Barclaycard who told him it would be sorted out.

He said: "The next thing I knew I got a letter back saying that after an investigation, the firm believed I had booked this room but had never shown up, so I had to pay a cancellation fee."

That's when he called me in. I got straight on to Barclaycard and they sent him a full refund of pounds 126.97.

YOUR RIGHTS: The law is on your side

DON'T panic if your credit card is lost or stolen as you are generally not liable... that's assuming the card goes missing without your consent and you can prove this to the credit card company.

Report lost or stolen cards at once. Some firms may ask for a nominal fee to cover any losses. The amount varies depending on your contract - check the small print for details.

If your card is misused with your permission, then you are liable for any losses.

Issuers are not obliged to pay up if someone has been negligent with a pin number, for example. Terms and conditions of card agreements state that the pin number must not be kept with the card or written down.

Anyone who lends their card - even to someone they trust - remains liable for all charges.

Barclaycard spokesman Ian Barber said: "If there's fraudulent activity on your card you have nothing to worry about. Every customer, no matter what happens, is protected."

There are a few simple rules to follow to combat card crime:

Don't let your card out of your sight. Ask waiters to bring the card terminal to the table, or go with them to the till. Confine internet shopping to sites that use secure connections to transmit details.

Don't give your card number out over the phone unless you are initiating a purchase.

Never sign blank receipts and always check how much you sign for.

Avoid putting your card behind a bar. If you decide to do this, be sure it is in a place you can trust.

Always check your monthly credit card statement thoroughly against receipts. Report anything unusual.

Never reveal a pin number to anyone. Not even card companies or the police will ask for it.

THE SCAMS: How they can grab your money

SKIMMING: Crooks working in restaurants or shops secretly swipe your credit card through a machine which copies the magnetic strip and duplicates the information. So while you still have your card, someone else also has a copy, and will be running up your bill. The practice has been linked to organised crime and cost banks pounds 160million last year alone.

BIN DIVING: The fastest- growing type of fraud. Crooks trawl through bins for bank statements and personal financial information. It is estimated one in four people throw out credit card receipts without destroying them and the bin raiders use the details on these to run up debts. Fraudsters use the details to buy goods over the phone or internet. They can also change your address to a temporary one and start using new cards in shops.

SHOULDER SURFING: This is when criminals look over your shoulder as you use a hole-in-the-wall cash dispenser, learn your pin number and then steal your card. Discarded receipts at cash points are also used by crooks to learn card details One of the newest scams is the use of a plastic cover - a so-called 'logic board' - which is placed over the keypad and records a user's pin number. In some extreme cases, false cash points have even been set up and used to obtain pin numbers.

POSTAL SCAMS: Crooks are also using junk mail scams in order to get personal information. Letters from organisations such as Holland-based ABC Club inform you that you have won a prize, but to claim it you have to post them your credit card details. They can use the information to make fake cards. The Office of Fair Trading is investigating and warning people to be wary of giving out this kind of information.

THE SAFEGUARDS: Hi-tech way to beat crooks

CREDIT card crime has forced companies to take action to combat crooks.

The main new counter-fraud technique is to replace the signature strip with an electronically chipped card and a four-digit pin number.

The scheme means that when a customer makes a transaction, instead of signing a receipt, they enter a pin number recognised by the card's microchip.

Melanie Hubbard, an expert in credit card fraud at the Association for Payment Clearing Services, said: "By 2005 every new card holder will be using chip and pin. The pin number makes sure the customer is genuine and is much safer than the signature - a pin is either right or wrong. The chip and pin system cuts fraud losses by half."

Another new crime-fighting technique is a thumbprint scheme, piloted in Inverness last year. During the three-month trial, credit card fraud fell by a staggering 87 per cent. Customers made payments using a credit card, and provided a thumbprint which police could use if a suspected fraud has taken place.

Electronic advances also include a system called Falcon, which tracks how people use their credit cards. If unusual spending patterns occur, such as the card appearing to be used in two countries at once, the company will inform the customer and block the account if fraud has been committed.

Many cards now also have security codes. The code is the final three digits over the top of the signature strip and is extra proof you are the cardholder.

You could be asked to quote the card security number along with your statement address when making a purchase online or over the phone. But only disclose the security number when you are sure the merchant is genuine and reputable.

Anyone trying to misuse your card, without having it in their possession, won't be able to quote the code and rip you off.

VERDICTS

Wife ran off with pounds 12,000

MY daughter-in-law took pounds 12,000 from my son's bank account then ran off and left him with the debt. She has also filed for divorce. Surely she can't get away with this?

nTHE account must have been in joint names so either person can empty the account, but may have to justify this to the other at a later stage. Before any divorce is granted, your son should ensure that he has a note of all matrimonial assets and liabilities (i.e. debts) which must be taken into account if any sharing of assets is to take place. If there are no assets and he has had to pay debts incurred by his wife, he can ask the court to make an order for payment by her to him of half the debts incurred.

Abuser acts as kids' dad

ISPLIT up with my long-term partner and our two children continued to live with her. I've since discovered that she has taken up with a man who has served time for abusing children. I'm worried for my children's safety. What can I do?

nYOU should raise a court action for declarator of parentage and the granting of parental rights. In view of the possible continuing contact with the paedophile, you might also consider asking the court for a residence order, the rough equivalent of getting custody of the children. The Sheriff would base his decision on the best interests of the children.

Cheated out of wage rise

WHEN I started a new job, I was promised a pay rise within three months as other women workers in the same position were paid pounds 2000 more than me. Now my boss has gone back on this. It's left me feeling cheated. Is there anything I can do?

nI FULLY sympathise with your position. Had the other members of staff who were paid more than you been men you could have claimed sex discrimination under the equal pay legislation. However, as the other members are also women, there is nothing you can do, as rates of pay are a matter for negotiation.

Must I pay lawyer bill?

IRECENTLY settled a constructive dismissal case out of court. I had agreed a fee of pounds 500 with my lawyer and paid up front. Now the law firm are pursuing me for further charges, even though the case did not go to court.

nIF the solicitors were to raise court action against you this would be by way of Small Claim Summons. The maximum expenses which they might be awarded would be pounds 75. I would telephone the firm's credit control department and explain the position.

Write to the Judge, Sunday Mail, One Central Quay, Glasgow, G3 8DA.

Fax: 0141 309 3587(please include daytime telephone number if possible)

E-Mail: thejudge@sundaymail.co.uk (you must include postal address and phone number)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:The Judge
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 31, 2002
Words:2201
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