Wall Street Journal -- see below for excerpt (DEAD)






Wall Street Journal Sunday Edition (Nov. 27, 2005) excerpt (used with permission):

Protect yourself by checking your credit-card statements carefully, especially if holiday shopping makes the list of charges quite long. You're not responsible for unauthorized charges on your account, as long as you promptly bring them to the attention of the card company. One tip: many fraudsters, realizing that large charges tend to get picked up and rejected fairly quickly, are now trying to slip smaller payments onto people's statements.

Computer consultant Brian Morris of Pittsburgh found this out recently when he noticed a $24.99 charge from a company he didn't recognize on his credit-card statement. When he typed the company name into Google, he found several complaints about it on bulletin boards and forums. It turned out to be a merchant in Cyprus that was in operation for about a month, charging the same $24.99 fee on hundreds of credit cards for which it had improperly obtained information.

"Some people have been calling them spam charges," says Mr. Morris. "These people steal some card numbers and then throw a bunch of small charges onto the accounts, hoping to get under the radar." He set up a Web site about the particular scam he was caught in. Although hundreds of people said they had been victimized, there was no single Web site that they all had visited, so he still doesn't know where his data was stolen from.

Mr. Morris says his card company immediately canceled his card and issued him a new one, and he was not responsible for paying the $24.99. But he fears others were not so lucky: "I'm sure there are so many people who've seen this charge and just thought, 'Oh, my wife probably did that.' If you see something on your statement that's $600, you'll look at it, but if it's $24.99, you'll probably think it's OK," he says.

Despite the risks, a credit card is still better than other methods of paying for Web purchases. It confers legal rights, such as the ability to dispute payments. Some cards also provide protection such as insurance or extended warranties.