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Lots Of Little Credit Charges Add Up To One Big Scam

Many consumers don't check their credit card bills carefully — which makes it easy to miss fraudulent charges.
Many consumers don't check their credit card bills carefully — which makes it easy to miss fraudulent charges.

Would you notice an unexpected charge of $10 or less on your credit card statement? Lots of consumers don't — and scammers count on that, says Steve Barnas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in northern Illinois.

But Barnas says the Better Business Bureau is now hearing from consumers across the country about $9.84 credit charges for what look to be very innocuous purchases. But while they may seem legitimate, many are not.

"Most of them we're seeing say "customer support" [or] "website support," he says. "And basically [what] they are really trying to do is get really pedestrian, in essence, so it flies underneath the radar."

And there's another reason why some consumers may ignore small charges, Barnas says. "Usually if it's a joint credit card, the husband thinks the wife charged it and the wife thinks the husband charged it."

Lois Greisman, associate director of Marketing Practices at the Federal Trade Commission, says this is an old and clever scam.

The precise amount, $9.84, "makes you think you actually purchased something," she says.

"The idea of illegally putting unauthorized charges on somebody's credit card statement and doing it in a particularly low amount that's not likely to jump off the sheet — assuming anyone's even reading it in the first place — is a fairly known tactic by scammers," Greisman says.

No one's sure how big this particular con is, but after complaints starting piling up on website forums, Brian Krebs of KrebsonSecurity.com began investigating. He doesn't think the $9.84 scam is tied to the recent data breaches at Target or other big retailers.

"When I look back at the domain names and the different website names and so on that were involved, it was pretty clear this has gone back many, many months before Target, and that this operation had just been going on for quite some time," Krebs says.

Krebs says the fraudsters hired call centers in India and set up websites that were fronts to look legitimate.

Barnas says that's why scam artists who steal credit card numbers hope consumers will overlook small charges. "Because they can change it from $9.84 to $20 tomorrow," he notes.

If you notice a problem, he suggests you call the credit card company right away for a new card.

And the FTC's Lois Greisman has some common-sense advice: "There's no substitute for reading line-by-line your credit card statement," and making sure that any charges — especially small ones — were actually made by you.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.