Despite what silly James Bond-esque credit card commercials may imply, credit card companies don’t really protect you to the degree you expect. If a credit card company detects irregular spending on your credit card, they may freeze your account or call to verify your identity. While these measures do help secure your card to an extent, but they cannot prevent or detect all types of credit card fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission recently filed a lawsuit describing a criminal enterprise responsible for “micro charges,” fraudulent charges ranging from 20 cents to $10, to as many as one million credit cards since approximately 2006. Because the amounts were low, most of the fraud went unnoticed by cardholders. Money mules were used to divert the funds to Eastern European countries. (“Money mules” are typically individuals who are recruited to assist in a criminal enterprise via help wanted advertisements on job placement websites. In this case, the mules believed they were applying to be financial services managers.) These mules opened numerous LLCs and bank accounts. They also set up websites with toll free numbers, creating an apparently legitimate web presence. Thanks to this facade, the websites were granted merchant status, allowing them to process credit card orders.

The victims of this scam would see the fictional merchant’s name and toll free number on their credit card statements. If they attempted to dispute a charge, the toll free numbers would go to voicemail or be disconnected. Most frustrated consumers may not bother to take the additional step of disputing a 20 cent charge with the credit card company.

The money mules involved in this scam have been located, but the true scammers have yet to be identified.

If you fail to recognize and dispute unauthorized transactions on your credit card statements, you take responsibility for the fraudulent charges. While 20 cents may not seem worth the bother, these seemingly minor charges are certainly funding criminal activity, and perhaps even terrorism. So take the time to scrutinize those charges every since month.

Robert Siciliano, personal security adviser to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses credit card fraud on NBC Boston. (Disclosures)

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