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Credit Card Fraud Protection: Annoying, But Necessary

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

Dear Credit Card Users,

Last month I visited the Calvin Klein Collection store in Manhattan to pick out some suits for a good friend's wedding in April. Let me paint a picture—the happy couple and myself were lolling about the impeccably lit and utterly posh dressing rooms on the men's floor toasting with gratis champagne in gorgeous designer crystal glasses presented on beautiful little china coasters with monogrammed cocktail napkins. Inoffensive but utterly hip instrumental music tinkled, and our charming sales associate—Allen—was making us feel like total high-roller, big deal celebrities, not the poor Brooklyn schmos we in fact are.

Several suits were tried on (as were a pair of fabulous coated denim jeans in indigo, because, I mean—Necessary). We ended up selecting several items—racking up a four-figure bill as an Italian-from-Italy house tailor nipped at the groom's brand new suit.

I presented my credit card.

And it was promptly rejected. Allen discreetly returned it to me—eyes cast downward; I started very indiscreetly panicking and sweating.

Then my phone rings—and it's Carlos. From my credit card's fraud protection office. "We've detected some unusual activity on your credit card and would like to confirm that you were making a rather large purchase at a Calvin Klein store in New York."

"Well, I'm at Calvin Klein right now, Carlos." And I live in New York. And I've shopped here before. And—as you can probably tell from my years and years of credit card statements—it's not super unusual for me to be making purchases of various amounts at higher-end clothing stores. Perhaps if my credit card were being used to buy a grill or a sofa or car stereo—but Calvin Klein Collection?

Carlos reactivated the card and my blood pressure returned to a near-normal level and the transaction was completed and Allen didn't make us feel like sad street people and it was fine (I guess)—but, doesn't it sometimes seems like the fraud protection thing is going just a little bit too far?

Last Christmas I got rejected at the MoMA store. I think the charge was for something like $25. The reason? I used my card three times at three stores in an hour—including a Club Monaco. I was Christmas shopping! Apparently, a Club Monaco charge of $60 or $80 raises some major red flags. Twice I've been rejected while on vacation—both times I called in my travel arrangements in hopes of avoiding credit card rejections when settling up modest hotel bills or filling up rented Chrysler Sebring convertibles with regular gasoline. Once it even happened at Margiela—I've still not fully recovered from that indignity ?

It's extremely frustrating—not to mention totally embarrassing and such a huge time suck spending all kinds of time on the phone with your credit card company while you're at a gas station or in a foreign hotel or sweating in one of the West Village's most hoity-toity boutiques.

And yet: Credit card and identity theft are obviously huge issues with "approximately 15 million United States residents [having] their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses totaling upwards of $50 billion." That's seven percent of us!

So, perhaps all that protection is warranted (if inconvenient).

Now, in attempting to protect yourself, common sense is basically the order of the day. Even if the most common-sensical of us can end up a victim.

The internet is littered with prevention tips for individuals ranging from the duh ("never lend a credit card to anyone else" and "don't write your PIN number on your credit card") to the actually helpful: "Keep a list in a secure place with all of your account numbers and expiration dates, as well as the phone number and address of each bank that has issued you a credit card."

Lifehacker is a great resource—with geek-approved tips on keeping your information off those bizarro on-line white pages while keeping tabs on your social networking bits and bobs; why to avoid your credit card's optional identity theft coverage; and how to use Google Alerts for monitoring your identity and finances.

And now, some levity: Identity Thief (the movie) looks pretty hilarious. Coming out on February 8th, Melissa McCarthy stars as the person stealing Jason Bateman's life in order to buy fancy bubble bath, bottles of champagne, large shopping bags full of stuff from Adidas, and a Fiat 500. Apparently credit card fraud has become such a widely relatable issue that broad comedies with big budgets are being produced. Here's the preview:

· Love, Frank [Racked]