Woman hit with $5K in fraudulent charges after ordering pizza online
Posted June 3, 2015
Deborah Howlett ordered a pizza online. A few hours later, her bank account was drained.
The transactions happened within minutes, one debit after another until a total of $4,992 was gone.
“We go to this Mexican restaurant that we love, and (the waitress) says, “Well, I’m sorry but your card has been declined,’” Howlett said.
Her account showed the trouble happened two days earlier when she used her debit card twice at Home Depot, once at a gas station and later to buy a pizza online.
Right after the pizza order, the fraudulent withdrawals began.
“You’re kind of in shock. I was shaking,” Howlett said.
Of the 17 bogus charges, three were for Papa John’s – one for her order in Cary and two for a shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. The rest of the debits involved travel companies.
Howlett wondered if it all stemmed from the pizza order. She called the bank and Papa John’s.
The bank slowly credited her account over several days. Papa John’s did not initially respond to Howlett, but when 5 On Your Side reached out, company spokesman Eric Zeugschmidt responded with the following statement:
"Papa John's takes customer complaints very seriously and is aware of this isolated issue that occurred nearly three weeks ago. Since learning of the issue, we have conducted a full investigation. Our investigation confirmed that the fraudulent charges made on this one individual's debit card did not arise from using Papa John's online ordering system or from our Raleigh, North Carolina store. Papa John's has not been contacted by any financial institutions or law enforcement authorities related to this issue, nor has it received any related customer complaints. Additionally, our customer's credit and debit card information is encrypted and cannot be accessed by local store employees for online orders. When we last spoke with the customer, she indicated that everything was resolved and the bank had refunded her money for the fraudulent charges."
Howlett’s experience highlights the perils of using a debit card instead of a credit card. If someone steals your debit card or just the information, the money is gone until the bank can sort it out – a process that can take months.
Experts recommend avoiding the use of debit cards to make purchases online, at restaurants, at gas stations or using them at ATMs. The latter two locations are often where thieves use skimming devices to copy card information.
Another tip from the experts: Limit funds in the account and set up an alert through the bank to notify you about transactions over a certain amount.
“I didn’t even know they had such a thing, that I could just go online and click on it and it’s there for my protection,” Howlett said.
She said she’s now more cautious about where she uses her debit card.
“Five thousand dollars is a lot of money,” Howlett said.