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Then, all of a sudden, your card's declined, leaving you red-faced and frustrated. Siciliano suggests that each transaction is automatically analyzed for up to 200 different data points, everything from where you live to what you normally buy to how much you're spending, to determine the likelihood that you're the one actually making a particular charge.
If the analysis doesn't add up, your card will be blocked and your next purchase declined.
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When your credit card company stops a thief from charging fraudulent expenses to your card, you're thrilled.
But what happens when they mistake you for the thief?
With .89 billion in fraud losses in 2009, credit card companies eager to stem the tide are continually beefing up their anti-fraud measures, relying on sophisticated computer software to flag suspicious transactions.
Trouble is, what looks like a red flag to a computer may just be you trying to make a mundane purchase. "The credit card companies -- Visa, Master Card, American Express, Discover -- all have their own proprietary technologies that look for anomalies in your spending habits," says Robert Siciliano, a Mc Afee consultant and identity theft expert based in Boston.
See related: 5 steps to avoid ID theft at the register, How to prevent and cure medical ID theft, When hit by ID theft, take these 4 steps to make things right, How to check for, fix ID theft or fraud, Credit card users can take steps to protect themselves from identity theft, Identity theft sample letters, 10 ways students can protect against identity theft, Protecting your children from identity theft We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users.
What triggers a block Card issuers won't go on the record about specific red flags -- as Siciliano points out, "That'll only give the bad guys an edge." But according to experts and hapless cardholders who have experienced a block, these shopping habits may lead to hassles: How to handle a block When your card company suspects suspicious activity, sometimes you'll get an email or a phone call asking you to verify a purchase.
Other times your card is simply declined, with no advance warning and no information why, and it's up to you to call your issuer and sort out the problem.
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