7 reasons your credit card gets blocked

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7 reasons your credit card gets blocked
Plus: 7 tips for handling it when it happens to you

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?
7 reasons your credit card gets blockedWith $6.89 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
you red-faced and frustrated.
So what looks bad to your card company? Anything out of the ordinary. "The credit card
companies -- Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover -- all have their own
proprietary technologies that look for anomalies in your spending habits," says Robert
Siciliano, a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert based in Boston. 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.
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:
Shopping where you’ve never shopped before. "I’ve had calls from my card company
saying, We’ve detected unusual activity.’ It wasn’t unusual, but it was a different
theft risk management specialist and author of "Give Me Back My Credit!"
Making several purchases quickly. Janis Badarau, of Lavonia, Ga., sometimes hits
few months ago, she was so speedy that by the time she swiped her card at the third
store, it was declined. "I called the bank when I got home, and they told me that
Badarau says.
Charging something small, then something big. Criminals sometimes test the waters
with a stolen card by charging a tiny amount -- say, a song on iTunes -- before moving
on to a triple-digit purchase. That small-big pattern in your own buying habits may
result in a declined card.
my billing address is Massachusetts and I’m buying a washer and dryer in Idaho, that’s
an anomaly, because why would I buy a washer and dryer in Idaho if I live in
Massachusetts?" says Siciliano.
Charging travel expenses. On the road, any purchase from gas to restaurant meals
can trigger a block. While that’s long been true for travelers abroad, it now happens
domestically, too. "Once my travel to L.A. flagged it and I spent 20 minutes verifying
transactions," says Traci Coulter, of New York City. When she asked what caused the
rental car hold" -- all standard travel expenses.
Buying things in different geographic regions on the same day. During a cruise,
Janet Gillis, of Tampa, Fla., used a card to get money from an ATM on the ship, then
she later made a purchase on-shore in Belize. For the rest of the trip, her card was
several hours later, I was purchasing something in Belize. To them, it looked
suspicious because the transactions happened so close together," says Gillis. Online
purchases to merchants in different parts of the world can trigger the same flag.