What? *Another* replacement credit card? Why database hacks are becoming a real, and costly, hassle

Bloomberg's list of greatest 'hits.'
Bloomberg’s list of greatest ‘hits.’

“You’re not liable for any fraudulent charges.” It’s a cheery phrase you’ve seen or heard dozens of times lately, usually said to help ease the blow of bad news: Your credit card has been hacked.  “But don’t worry!  A new card is on its way!  Everything is fine! Smiley face. =-)”

You recognize the language. It means you’ve been “Home Depot’d.”  Or “Target’d.” Or “Michael’d.”

And you know everything isn’t fine.

Consumers might be weary of news stories chronicling multi-million account hackings at major retailers like Target or Home Depot, but they are much more tired by the fallout: two, three, even four cards replaced in recent months, each one bringing with it a separate set of hassles and payment mixups.

Let’s call it, “Card replacement fatigue.” Consumers are starting to get pretty restless about all the new plastic they are getting in the mail.

(I am carrying three versions of the same card in my wallet right now as I sort through which one is the right one to use.  Both replacements arrived while I was traveling, hence the confusion).

“My credit card has been replaces 3 times this summer – I’m over it,” complained Melanie Web-Stelter. “I’m considering going back to checks and cash.”

Murray Lahn has had it even worse.

“At one point about 2 years ago, I went through 5 Mastercards in 20 months, and my most recent one was replaced just weeks ago before the Home Depot breach,” Lahn said. “I feel like I’m the king of card replacements.”

Most consumers are delighted to know their bank is looking out for them.  In fact, customer satisfaction ratings are high with phone calls warning that a consumers’ card might have been used for fraud.   Even new cards can provide some of that halo effect, partly offsetting the $5-to $10-per-card price tag of a reissue.

But there’s a limit to the good-will that can be earned with mass card cancelations, and it appears we are nearing that limit. There can be real costs associated with suffering a credit card hack. Not from the bank, or the fraud, but the hassle.

Automated payments are the best way to make sure the bills are paid and there’s no late fees. Consumer advocates (like me!) recommend using credit cards for lots of recurring bills — the electricity, the cell phone, the cable, and of course automated toll payments  — as a way to simplify your financial life.  It’s not simple however, when a bank gives you a new account number and you have to update all your automated payments.  Sure, you can look at last month’s statement and pluck them out, but what if you miss one?  Then the banks no-liability fraud policy won’t protect you from late fees.

And while many consumers say calling firms to update account information isn’t that much of a hassle, others report crazy situations.

“Time Warner Cable’s billing system … according to a customer rep has not been updated for decades,” said Dayle Henshel.  “Credit card changes, anything other than new expiration dates, are effectively hand-entered into their system and take 4-8 weeks to propagate into the system.”

Then, there’s EZ-Pass.

“Had to turn around on the Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel because EZ Pass triggered a reload on the old card number,” said Ron Urbanski. “After paying cash, we were able to update our account on the iPhone to allow us to pay the next tolls.”

In an informal poll, plenty of folks indicated their bank of credit union helped smooth the automated payment transition process, easing the pain considerably. Still, there is work involved — work consumers must do through no fault of their own.

“Got a letter from Chase identifying vendors that I interact with that I should contact based on reoccurring charges to account that may be auto pay or subscriptions,” said Mark Ladisky. “Helpful but I had to do the legwork.”

And there is one more hidden victim in the “victimless” crime of a massive credit card database hack: charities.

“I work with a little public radio station that’s pushing monthly ‘sustainer’ membership. More and more cards get declined due to replacements,” bemoaned Tom Lucci. “It’s a lot of extra time – that we don’t have – to track down new card info. Obviously we can’t charge a late fee or report to the credit bureaus. So if you do get breached, reach out to any nonprofits where you’re a sustaining contributor. Right thing to do, much appreciated.”

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About Bob Sullivan 1637 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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