I couldn’t believe what my checking account showed early last fall. Someone had ripped me off for about $141 in four purchases I hadn’t made.
I hadn’t bought anything from a name-brand computer company or businesses I’d never heard of, and no one had access to my card.
Then it dawned on me. My bank had sent an alert that someone had tried to use my card and the purchase was declined. The attempt for $7.71 apparently was a test to see if my card was valid. Seems Visa didn’t think I’d suddenly appeared overseas, but my card showed promise for someone, who then used my card number for online purchases.
The alert was my cue to cancel the card and get another one. I missed the cue, but not for long.
I disputed the charges in writing. My bank returned my losses in about a month, but I was never given an explanation of what happened.
At first I suspected someone at one of my favorite stores had stolen my card info or that their data was hacked. Or that a criminal with a card reader had electronically snatched the info off my card by walking or driving by me. I wondered if I’d missed seeing a fake covering over the debit-card reader at a gas pump, or if the red security tape was broken.
In a few months, I began reporting on a federal court case against Milad Kalantari. He’s an Iranian national prosecuted in Gulfport for running websites that sell stolen card information obtained by hackers. He pleaded guilty this week on charges that include identity theft and credit-card trafficking.
Prosecutors said Kalantari’s crimes involve losses of more than $1.2 million. The victims worldwide include numerous South Mississippi residents. His websites sold stolen names, addresses, phone numbers, card numbers and the three-digit security codes. And unknown people benefited from the losses of others.
Was I a victim of Milad Kalantari and his co-conspirators? Or was I defrauded in some similar scheme?
I asked a Homeland Security Investigations agent if my loss was part of the investigation.
If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you, he said.
I take it back. He didn’t say that. He said it wasn’t his case and that was that.
But I’m wiser now. I hope you are, too.