further adventures of my wallet

So I’m in Washington DC now, doing some work before heading home to Vermont this weekend for one final packing push. While I was in Portland I noticed that someone, not me, had bought a ton of stuff at Walmart.

Now, I’ve been known to shop at Walmart for the occasional box of Emergen-C or, regretfully, cup holders (my car lacks them, it’s so sad) but I’ve never spent maybe more than $14 there. Someone had spent upwards of $480 at a Walmart in California while I was in Portland Oregon. I discovered this on Friday evening which means that my wonderful mom&pop credit union was closed for the weekend. At this point when I told my friends this story they were all “OMG THAT SUCKS” but really, it didn’t. Part of this is because I try hard not to be a person who freaks out. Part of it is because, due to class privilege, or a general optimistic outlook, or maybe just seeing this scenario play out tons of times before with friends and Internet associates, I knew it would go okay. I did not spend that money and I was not going to pay it. My credit card has been with me the whole time.

My bank’s weekend answering service wasn’t too sure what to do and told me to call back Monday. They did laugh when I told them that yes I was absolutely certain that I had not spent that money at Walmart because I despise Walmart and would not give them any more money than was absolutely necessary. I figured I’d call the Gilroy [yes, garlic capital of the world] Walmart and see what they could tell me. Now, one of the nasty things about Walmart isn’t just that they’re putting a ton of producers and suppliers out of business because of their relentless cost-cutting and massive purchasing power. The nasty thing is that it’s not a great place to work, either. They’re the largest private employer in the US and the bulk of the jobs there are routinized cog-in-machine types of interchangeable paper pushing jobs. Which is another way of saying that Walmart couldn’t help me either, though I had a lot of nice conversations with the “loss prevention” people.

“Can you tell me what I spent $480 on at your store three days ago?” is apparently an unanswerable question. I watched my bank account like a hawk all weekend (nothing), checked in on all my other credit cards (zip) and asked my bank if they could just disallow any charges that came in from anyplace that was not DC, Portland, Vermont or Boston (no). Monday rolled around and my bank confirmed that the charges at Walmart were made from an actual credit card — meaning mine was likely cloned — and that there were a few more pending charges from gas stations around Oakland. They cancelled my card and are fedexing me a new one to my hotel here. I have to fill out a form which I then have to get notarized saying the charges aren’t mine. I have one recurring charge on my credit card which I’ll have to update and maybe three websites that I have to update with my new credit card number.

I guess Visa eats the charges. Or my bank does, but they have insurance to cover it. I have a few hours of hassle dealing with this. Someone in Gilroy gets $480 of “free” stuff from Walmart. I have pretty much no way of knowing when or how my CC number was diverted but I like to blame Disneyland. I have no idea if all of this means the system works, or that it doesn’t.

What do you think?


  1. Sadly, the “cloned” video is no longer available.

  2. Crap. The same thing happened to me two weeks ago–someone used a cloned card at the Oakland Best Buy and bought $2,200 worth of merchandise. Yikers.

  3. Hello,

    I work in the credit card industry. The process you are instituting is called a chargeback. In the case of a chargeback the merchant (Walmart) has to eat the fraud, not your bank and not Visa (or Mastercard or whomever). They may also be charged an additional processing fee, anywhere from $10 to $50 that Visa (or Mastercard) will retain. The credit card company may actually make more money from a fraudulent and reversed transaction than a legitimate one. Merchants that generate too much fraud can have their merchant fees (the % going to Visa or Mastercard) raised. This affects smaller merchants much more than a huge entity like Walmart, who likely have their own chargeback insurance to protect against losses above a certain threshold.

    Thought you might like to know!

  4. Hooray! Chargeback. Walmart should have checked that signature and asked for identification before so quickly agreeing to allow nearly $500 in merchandise leave their store.

  5. Whoever was working the register on that purchase was probably in on the fraud. You’d have to be pretty crazy or pretty dumb to take $480 of merchandise and a cloned card to the register just hoping they don’t check your ID.

  6. This happened to me once with my MC check card…I found out when my card suddenly stopped working as I was filling the gas tank on a rental car in San Francisco (of course). They froze my entire account until several days later — and the purchases that happened all took place at a WalMart in NY state. Since I don’t shop there either, I had a similar “no, I don’t shop at WalMart” conversation with the bank people. Very irritating.