Credit Cards

Fraud by the Quarter: The Perfect Crime?

I may have discovered the perfect crime. I can’t tell you who exactly is committing it, how exactly he’s doing, or who exactly it hurts, but I know someone, somewhere could be getting rich from it.

Last month, a charge for a hotel stay was $0.75 higher on our credit card bill than on the hotel receipt. Most people wouldn’t notice the difference. Of those who would, few would bother to take the time to complain about the charges.

As soon as I discovered the discrepancy, I imagined the hotel clerk or someone in accounts payable at the hotel or in billing at the credit card company – someone, somewhere – adding $0.75 to every transaction and routing the money to his or her personal account. Someone could make a lot of money that way and, unless someone else notices the large number of small deposits (or unless the thief finds a way to change the credit to cash), he may never get caught.

My husband, who is the primary cardholder on that account, also immediately concluded that someone was committing fraud, so he thought it was worth the time to complain. The credit card company credited the $0.75 to our account but does not intend to investigate the discrepancy; the investigation would cost more than they’d recover.

So who loses? We got $0.75 back. If the thief works for the hotel (rather than the credit card company), the charges would be spread across several credit issuers, and with only a small percentage of cardholders taking the time to complain, each company loses a negligible percentage of its profit.

Maybe someone made $0.75 by overcharging our card; maybe it was a clerical error and my imagination is running wild. Nevertheless, if someone has discovered the perfect crime where no one loses (much — and nobody is willing to prosecute), I feel we all have lost somehow.

Maybe it’s false nostalgia, but I see the potential for such “victimless” theft as a symptom of the loss of personal connections caused by a cultural shift from friendly face-to-face conversation between local businesspeople and their regular customers to impersonal, even automatic, telephone or Internet transactions. It’s much easier on an employee’s conscience to steal from numbered accounts used by thousands of travelers who pass through a hotel than to steal from Jimmy Smith, father of Jane and Bobby, who lives next door to his best friend’s aunt. Our computerized way of doing business may be more efficient (then again, it may not), but it is far more likely to encourage us to take advantage of each other than to foster respect and understanding in business.

12 thoughts on “Fraud by the Quarter: The Perfect Crime?

  1. There was a movie years ago where a guy worked in a bank and figured out a way to put rounded off amounts, fractions of a cent each time, into his account. It added up to millions and nobody every noticed because they hadn’t actually lost anything. If interest came to $1.2047, he put the $.0047 into his account. Something like that.

  2. That movie was office space, he was a programmer. It ended up they steal an amazing amount and hilarity ensues.

    I would kind of like to know what hotel chain you stayed at. If you would prefer not to say publicly, then possibly email my hotmail at [email protected]

  3. I think someone did it in Superman as well.

    It may be related to the daily newspaper. I stay in many hotels that deliver USA Today and there is fine print that if you call the front desk and decline the newspaper, they will subtract $0.75 from your bill each day. Since the amount is the same, it could be that your hotel adds $0.75 for the paper. Then again, it should show up on your bill at checkout.

  4. Another option you could try is call them and ask for them to fax over a current folio. That way you can see what they charged in their computer, if it matches the charge on the credit card it will have to add pu to all the charges.

    Most property management systems won’t let you check someone out of the hotel’s computer if the folio doesn’t balance the charges with the payments (I work with hotel software).

  5. I’m surprised the credit card company didn’t pursue it. I guess they see it as a cost of doing business.

  6. I think my cell phone company used to do this. They’d always charge me .79 for some random fee or long distance or toll, but then I’d call and complain and they’d apologize and reimburse me. HM, if they did that to all of their 5 million customers and only 10% called & complained, they’d be making a ton of extra cash!!!

  7. Something along the lines just happened here, but on a much larger scale. Two servers at a local place were adding $200 tips to the prepaid debit cards. The guest would leave them empty on the table, and the girls would run them back through after they left. They got caught b/c it was such a large amount of money. I even commented to my roommate that if they had done a smaller amount, they wouldn’t have gotten caught.

    The guest wasn’t liable, either was the prepaid debit card company, it was the business, who couldn’t figure out why their books were coming up short. I hope they enjoy their felony charges.

  8. Olive Garden has done this to me. Usually about $1 worth of tip. I balance my checkbook with the receipts, but then throw them out. Last time I went to Olive Garden, I kept that receipt to check it. I haven’t got the statement from the bank yet, but I’ll go back to get that money back if they stole from me again.

  9. Gas stations had an old scam where they would under pump by a penny. 100 people equals a buck. I once caught one scamming me for ten cents on the automated pumps. Ten people equals a buck.

  10. Beware of the Restaurants too! There has been more than one time where I found a higher tip amount and if it is a local place, I do try to go back and tell them and their manager. I point out that is considered stealing and make sure they know I tell my friends about it.

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