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McClatchy-Tribune  06/15/2014 5:04 AM ET
Detroit Free Press Susan Tompor column [Detroit Free Press :: ]

June 15--Credit card holders are on edge about fraud and mystery charges. So it's not good enough for card issuers to just offer rewards points any more; now card issuers need to reassure consumers that it's safe to use plastic, too.

Capital One has announced that it is piloting what it calls a Second Look program that can e-mail customers on potential "unwanted charges," such as when they get hit twice for $25.39 at the same store on the same day.

The pilot data shows that customers were three times more likely to question a charge after receiving a Second Look alert.

A few years ago, something like more e-mail alerts might have had consumers grumbling. Who wants to be bothered about charges on a cable bill? Or get an e-mail about an odd charge that you might be able to address later when the bill arrives?

But the various security breaches at major retailers, including Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels stores, have put consumers very much on high-alert when it comes to potential ID theft and fraud.

Last week, P.F. Chang's China Bistro confirmed that it was investigating its own data breach involving credit card and debit card information. The Web site reported that thousands of newly stolen credit and debit cards just went up for sale at online underground stores and connected some of those cards to cards used at P.F. Chang's locations between early March and May 19.

Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at, said she believes the growing awareness of fraud could be driving some consumers away from using plastic. So card issuers and merchants will need to do more to make some consumers feel safe.

Now, consumers want to know as much as they can, as soon as they can, about odd charges or duplicate charges or big jumps on their utility bills.

"Ultimately, it's the consumer who knows whether something is fraudulent, so bringing them into the process earlier makes perfect sense," Detweiler said.

She'd expect card issuers to try more programs that could help cardholders to spot and stop fraud.

Capital One's free service is designed to help customers flag duplicate charges, auto-renewing subscriptions and maybe increases in recurring charges for some utility bills, such as an unexpected spike in the cable bill.

The pilot program is in addition to fraud detection work.

Amy Lenander, vice president at Capital One, said the Second Alert program is expected to roll out to all branded card customers in a few weeks. The alerts would be sent to any customers who have an e-mail address on file.

"As far as we can tell, we're the first major bank to offer a service like this," she said.

The Second Look program will send an alert when there is an unexpected and potentially unwanted increase in a monthly bill for a recurring charge, such as a utility payment.

Maybe, there's a fraud issue or maybe someone in the house is ordering more movies and needs to be warned about the extra cost.

Only some higher-than-normal bills are being identified in the pilot program; others may be added later.

I asked her if they would alert you if you had a recurring payment with say Comcast and then suddenly in the same month had a bill for Dish Network on the card? Wouldn't that be a sign someone is using your card number to pay their TV bill? But Lenander said the system is not in place for that kind of alert at this point.

The Second List site is asking card holders for feedback on what kind of alerts would work. See

During the pilot program, Lenander noted that more than 25% of the customers contacted a provider to ask about an increased monthly bill after they received an alert from the credit card company.

Some other options exist that consumers can consider using, too. Look at your statements online. Look at the statement that comes in the mail and study charges line-by-line. Consumers can monitor their credit reports by obtaining free credit reports at

The more we know about our own bills, the more we can avoid mistakes and mayhem a little earlier in the game.

Contact Susan Tompor: 313-222-8876 or


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