Credit Card Freezes: What Triggers Them?
Jackie here. On a recent trip to the grocery store I pulled out my credit card to pay for groceries, only to have it declined. It was quite embarrassing. Luckily, I had another card on hand and was able to make my purchase. I left the store and immediately called the bank to see what was happening. They told me a fraud alert had been placed on my card. After I answered a few questions, the hold was removed and my card was back in working order. But, a question remained: what triggers a fraud alert on your credit card?
Potential Triggers for a Credit Card Freeze
Credit card companies want to minimize fraud and reduce the amount lost if a credit card is stolen. They have developed complex processes to identify potentially compromised cards. While many factors can lead to a freeze on your card, there are a few red flags that card companies may be watching out for. Check out a couple of interesting articles on the topic here and here.
Gas Station Purchases
I buy gas with my credit card all of the time, but surprisingly this can be a trigger for a fraud alert on your card. Thieves often test cards to see if they are working by making a small purchase or by filling up at a gas station. Gas stations are a great place to make a test purchase since you can usually pay at the pump without ever having to show id or even talk with an employee. If buying gas always resulted in a fraud alert, no one would use their cards to fill up; alerts are more likely when getting gas in a different part of town or in a different city than usual.
Shopping in a Fraud Prone Area
Making purchases in a known fraud area can be another red flag for your credit card company, especially if the purchases are for large dollar amounts or on merchandise that is easily resold (think electronics, gold, jewelry, etc.).
Using the Card to Get Cash
Getting cash with a credit card (or buying gift cards and other similar items) can be a potential sign of fraud to your bank. ID thieves are often after financial gain, and taking out cash directly eliminates the need for them to use the stolen card to buy items, and then resell those items for cash.
If your card is being used to make purchases across the country or around the globe, it might be flagged for fraud. This often leads to vacationers or frequent business travelers getting the unfortunate surprise of a card that won’t work. To eliminate this flag for legitimate transactions, call your bank and let them know the dates and location of your vacation before you leave.
Changes in Purchasing Patterns
Most people are pretty consistent in their spending habits. They shop in the same areas, buy the same type of things, etc. Changes to this pattern can trigger a fraud alert. Since your credit card company has an extensive history of your purchasing habits, they know the type of things that you are likely (or not likely) to buy.
Fraud holds on legitimate transactions might be irritating, especially when there is a fairly long list of triggers banks use to detect fraud. However, these fraud holds are often the first warning sign of id theft and credit card fraud that many consumers receive.