Watch credit card statements

By James Sibley
This item appears on page 24 of the March 2020 issue.

About to join a cruise-tour in Greece, on Oct. 1, 2019, I had lunch at a taverna on Adrianou Street in the Monastiraki area of Athens. The restaurant was in a row of similar tavernas located nearly opposite the entrance to the Ancient Agora.

When the waiter brought the bill, I gave him my USAA Federal Savings Bank Visa credit card, and he went to the back of the restaurant to process the transaction. He returned a few minutes later with a wireless card reader and tried to process the charge. After several minutes, he told me that he could not pick up an internet signal. Therefore, I paid with euros.

After returning home, I checked my Visa account only to discover that a 4,200 charge had been made to a “travel agency” with my card. I immediately reported this fraudulent transaction to my bank.

It took two months for the bank to determine that the charge was fraudulent. I did not receive any documentation from the bank’s investigation, just a voice-mail message stating that the investigation had concluded and that the temporary credit (in the amount of the fraudulent charge) would now be a permanent credit.

I did learn from the bank that the fraudulent charge had been submitted on Oct. 1 at 2:02 p.m. I had given the waiter my credit card at 2 p.m., and he returned to the table at 2:05 to try to submit the charge via his handheld device (unsuccessfully, he claimed).

I was not required to enter a PIN during any of the dozen or so times I used my Visa card while in Greece. (Even though my card had a PIN and I changed it just before the trip, I was told by a bank representative, during their investigation, that they don’t use PINs anymore.*) Nor do I recall signing any charge slips. The merchant would always just take my card, insert it into a mobile card reader, and a charge slip would be printed a few moments later.

I don’t know that I could have done anything differently to avoid the fraudulent charge. I was on vacation and used my Visa card just like I use it in the US. I’m glad that I checked my Visa account charges promptly after returning home.


Spring, TX

*Most credit cards issued in the US are chip-and-signature cards. No PINs are assigned to them, and in most transactions (as online), signatures are not even requested.