Keep your credit card numbers to yourself

Sometimes it is the things you don’t think will get you that get you. Make sense?

Recently I was sitting in a restaurant, with Detective Sandy, having a nice lunch. We were very low key. I was down to four guns on me and she was around the same number. We could, in a pinch, hold off the majority of an invasion by Canada, if need be, but for now, it was a quiet lunch.

You know those guys who have that naturally loud and very irritating pitch to their voice? They could be having a conversation on the other side of a football field but you could hear every word. Well, one of those guys sat down no closer than 20 feet away from us. The whole time he was ordering and waiting for food, he was on his cell phone and did not stop talking for one minute. I tried to tune him out but it did no good.

I finally gave up and just tried to enjoy my lunch. A few seconds later I heard him, still 20 feet away, order a gift — a book or something — with his credit card. No kidding, he read aloud — and aloud meaning we could all hear him  — his credit card number and security number (those three little digits) as well as his expiration date. Since he was blasting it out loud, I wrote the numbers down on the back of one of my business cards.

Right there and then I had all the buying power his credit limit could take and all I had to do was pick up the phone. I looked at the numbers and then asked Detective Sandy if she wanted to buy something like a Mazda or some jet skies. But she had already gone back to the salad bar for some alphalpha sprouts, so I just sat there questioning my honesty.

I am an honest person. My motivation isn’t that I believe in goodness and we should all be honest and loving and all that crap, but instead the simple fact that I’m the dumb jerk who’s gonna get caught. I’m too lazy to take a chance, so I don’t.

Honestly, though, the older I get, the more compassion I have for people, especially dumb ones like this overbearing, nasal-sounding bozo who had no clue that he was begging to make someone’s day  —but giving them his credit card carte blanche!

I tore up the business card into little pieces and we left.

Lucky guy. This is the time of year when the varsity comes out to steal from you. They watch and listen and it really doesn’t take much to grab some numbers off your card. The fact that you use it automatically puts you at some risk, but try to limit the access.

For example, shoulder-surfing is simple. The crook waits in the checkout line with a 50-cent pack of gum and hopes the person ahead of him or her is writing a check. If the crook’s memory is good, he’s in business — just copy down the account and routing number from the check. That, along with the name and some check paper, puts these folks in business.

There are easier ways to grab your sensitive numbers, but the moral of the story is that they do work at it and they are pretty good at it, so don’t make it easy. Credit cards are the best things to use during the holiday season because you have recourse if you’re victimized. You can dispute credit card charges and limit what the crooks can do once you find out they compromised your numbers.

Don’t forget: They don’t need the card, only the numbers. So read those post-holiday statements closely.

17 comments Add your comment

Chris Broe

December 23rd, 2009
6:15 pm

Merry Christmas!!!


December 24th, 2009
12:38 am

Ummmmmmm. Do you remember the numbers? I’m not done Christmas shopping.

Bobby dee

December 24th, 2009
5:17 am

I made a large purchase at a BigBox store. “Purchase declined. Call 800xxxxxxx” I held up the line for 5 minutes trying to whisper my mom’s maiden name, my dog’s name and my favorite rapper. I wrote a letter to their customer security office. They did not even respond. I actually was hoping that someone else would use my card because I would not be held responsible.


December 24th, 2009
8:31 am

At work we have a few cubicles set up here and there, like in my department. Luckily I’m usually the only one back here, but if any of the others are back here, and I hear them give out their credit card or social security numbers, I walk out as quickly as possible, so as to not remember them. Of course I usually don’t, since I tend to preoccupy myself with something else at the time they’re calling out those numbers, so that I pay little to no attention to it. I wish every company didn’t require you to call it out loud, but instead switched over to the computer right quickly so you could key it in on your phone.


December 24th, 2009
8:41 am

Any advice for the restaurants? My dad recently visited, and while using a CC that is ONLY for restaurants (rewards), went out to eat with me. Later that CC was used to pay a whole household’s worth of bills – utilities, mortgage, etc – for someone in that city with the same first name as the server. :-/ The normal use of the card made it immediately obvious – and it had been used no where else in the city ever. I’m surprised she had the spine to do that – there was a cop sitting across the room in an almost empty place. However, servers often do take your card away to run it – and it seems to be expected.


December 24th, 2009
9:35 am

I am a hawk with my personal information, and I have more safeguards on it than most people (though I’m not paranoid–just safe). I also wonder about the restaurant server stuff. I try to patronize the same places, and get to know the staff, but it’s not always possible. I pay with everything by credit card, and then pay it off in full each month. (I do this to get the rewards, which is essentially free money, and a slap to the cc company because I pay no interest.)

*Is* there a way to safeguard credit card info when giving the server your card? The idea of skimming makes me nervous.

Maybe the thing to do is buy gift cards to the restaurants I frequent, using my credit card, then use those to eat out. As long as they aren’t those kind of cards that expire or suck fees from you, that may be the answer.

I hate Chili’s, but one nice thing about that place is that they run the check out in the open, and you can literally watch them do it.


December 24th, 2009
9:47 am

Well, Dad using a different CC made it very obvious, very fast… which made it not *too* horrible… but still, it’s definitely added a touch of paranoia to me. I always wondered about it, but since then I’ve heard this is not that uncommon – particularly in GA and the South/West outside the city. Even if you can see them run it… they’re holding it, staring at it, sometimes flipping it over or fiddling with it to get it to scan – it’s not much better. They’d have to be pretty blatant to look out of the ordinary, even if they’re taking the number for later.
I had one server tell me I should write “see ID” on the credit card to stop that – but… that wouldn’t do a thing for online/electric skimming since they don’t see the actual CC. I’m not sure that would actually help with anything at all anymore, even if the server/cashier reads that.


December 24th, 2009
9:56 am

Trog – I’m like you when it comes to using credit cards at a restaurant. Unless I can see them perform the transaction, or if I’ve been to the restaurant enough times that I know a lot of the staff there, I won’t use my fake credit card (Visa Check Card), unless I absolutely have to. Otherwise, it’s cash all the way. I do watch my checking account like a hawk, logging in to it at least once a day, just to make sure there are no bizarro-world charges pop up.

Only once during the entire time I’ve had a checking account at any bank had something strange happened, and it was more of an error on the bank’s part. Came into work one morning, logged into the account to make sure I still had what few pennies I knew I had in there, and imagine my shock when it showed I was overdrawn by nearly $1,000. Not only that, but a few recent debits/checks had been returned, primarily my car payment and car insurance payment. I was all sorts of livid. Checked the account history, and saw there was a check written for $1,000. The check number read “000″, which seemed very odd to me. I was able to see a check image, and it turned out someone had written a draft note with my account number on it, when she probably meant to write her own. Probably transposed a couple of digits on the account number. I called the bank, reported it, they checked, gave a big “oops”, and said they’d fix it immediately. Not only had those debits/checks been returned, but they had attacked my account even more with the overdraft fees, totalling about $100. They said the fees would be returned, and the debits/checks would be reposted. A couple of hours later I log back into the checking account, and everything was right again.

As for gift cards, most restaurant gift cards don’t expire, nor are there fees. I’ve got a gift card to a major hamburger chain (think “star with smiley-face”) that I haven’t used in over a year. I The original amount was $10, which I had won through some promotion they had going. Had used it a time or two, and when I last used it, I had 53 cents left on it. Found it in a desk drawer this weekend as I was cleaning up, and decided to call the number on the back to check the balance. Still was 53 cents. May reload it this weekend. The only gift cards to expire or have fees that I know of are the Visa Gift Credit Cards, and the gift cards to Simon Malls.


December 24th, 2009
10:19 am

Another thing: I don’t sign the back of my card. Never have, never will. I used it at the post office a couple of weeks ago to ship out some Christmas cookies to a few people, and the woman at the counter said something that made me want to kiss her: “Sir, can I see your I.D. please?” I wish more and more retailers did this. The only reason why she wanted to see my I.D. is because I didn’t sign the card. I would prefer them to ask for it, even if I *did* sign the card.


December 24th, 2009
11:34 am

I have taken to signing it AND putting “see I.D.,” but in truth, so few retailers even look at it anymore. I use it a lot at the grocery store and other places where you never even hand them your card, just swipe it. Every time I do that, I think how easy it would be for a thief to do the same, since no one looks.

I used to never sign my cards, and in fact left the space blank, which is not good. “See I.D.” is better than blank. If you leave it blank and someone steals your card, then s/he just signs your name in that space in their handwriting, and voila, a perfect match.

The main thing is being vigilant, and checking your stuff consistently.


December 25th, 2009
3:36 pm

Seems you should have approached the guy, showed your police badge, and handed him the card you used to write his numbers. Then tell him how many other people could have that number. I am betting he would have learned a lot.

Of course, if you are big on evolutionary theory, he may be too dumb to procreate.


December 25th, 2009
5:19 pm

I use my bank card for everything, when I don’t have cash. I never pay at the resturant with a credit card, only cash. I work in Retail, and I always look at the back of a card to see what is on it. If there is no signature, I ask for I.D, and if “see I d” is on there, I also ask for ID. Most of the time the customer will thank me, because they say that no one ever asks for their ID. We are supposed to verify that the person using the card is the owner. There was a mugging in front of a Macy’s last year, of a 75 year old woman. The mugger, who was male, went into Macy’s and charged over $300 dollars worht of clothes, and the associate never looked to see that the user was a man, and the name on the card was a female. All of this happened while the lady lay in the parking lot waiting for an ambulance.


December 26th, 2009
7:45 pm

As a former Investigator for a city that is right next to the airport…it was not uncommon for us to recieve a report of FINANCIAL TRANSACTION CARD FRAUD, listing the incident location as one of the many “fine” dining establishments on Virginia Ave. – the number one place where such thefts was occurring was a seafood establishment. (the second was a steakhouse). The plan used, was that the server, after receiving your credit/debit card would take it to a secluded area and copy the credit/debit card numbers into a notebook – including the 3-digit security code.

The pros at this game, would not pay their rent, utilities, or food (too easy to trace)….they would use the number to order expensive merchandise and have it delivered to a “dead drop” – an apartment that was unoccupied, but, where they would be waiting for a delivery service to drop off the package. The victim would NOT usually be aware of the scam until they had received their bill later that month.

If you’re gonna pay for your expensive meal with a credit/debit card….ACCOMPANY the server to the billing station, and if they object, have the MANAGER process your bill. As little as they are paid or tipped, it is not any wonder that these servers are not engaging in these activities more frequently?


December 27th, 2009
9:05 pm

heard any good ones lately?

A J Scott

December 29th, 2009
10:12 am

Why didn’t you make this loudmouth aware of what he had done? I had a situation almost exactly like yours but it was in a laundry mat. There was this cute little diva and her girlfriend in the laundry mat just yakking away on their cell phones, very loudly. Then Ms. Diva decided to order something over the phone from a catalog she had with her. She proceeded to give out her name, cedit card numbers, security number, address where she wanted the item sent, and her phone number. After she finished, I went over to her, showed her my badge, (did I mention I was a cop?), and advised her she had just given me and anyone else within hearing range all the information we would need to steal her identity. She was really shocked, as she never considered anyone else cound hear her. I advised her of the danger of talking so loudly around strangers because one of those strangers could be an identity thief. She thanked me and told me she would never do that again. You should’ve done that with that loudmouth you encountered and advised him how dangerous as well as obnoxious he was being. You probably could’ve killed two birds with one stone.

Curious Observer

December 29th, 2009
1:34 pm

I learned my lesson about paying a restaurant tab with a debit card. Like Patrick, I check my checking account multiple times daily. One day, I found charges for (1) a Eurorail pass and (2)a plane ticket to London. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with my bank, which immediately put a hold on all charges on the card. When my wife and I started tracing where we had used the card, we came up with the names of two restaurants. From then on, it was strictly cash at restaurants. The bank reimbursed me for the charges, but I’ve learned that not even a debit card is safe if it’s out of your sight and possession for a few minutes.

Walter Davis

January 2nd, 2010
7:29 pm

I work in a grocery store with a credit card capture pad where you sign on the screen. Only a very small percentage of people sign anything near what their signature looks like on their card or ID…”these never look like my signature, it is too hard to make it look right,” etc. Loking at your card to “see ID” just does not work most of the time. But…you can ask the retailer to do a paper signature (just hit “cancel signature” on my device and my register will make a recipt that has to be signed).
I use a refillable Visa card for online and some retail purchases. The $3 fee to refill is good insurance.
The guy at the restaurant should have been given that business card with your police identification to the caller to, perhaps, drive home the point, especially with the credit card info on the back.