Hoaxes affect government cards

by Staff Sgt. Melanie Streeter
Air Force Print News

12/16/2003 - WASHINGTON -- A recent e-mail hoax targeted government purchasing cardholders in an attempt to gain vital account information.

The e-mail message linked users to a Web-based form, which fraudulently requested key information such as Social Security number, credit card account numbers and expiration dates.

"This is really uncommon," said Josephine Davis, Air Force banking officer. "What you see most frequently is some organization trying to pick up a slogan or relationship to (General Services Administration) because GSA administers the government purchasing contract."

Though there were only a couple of e-mail hoaxes this year, Davis said there are a variety of methods used to get government travel or purchasing card information.

"It's not because they're travel or purchasing cards, but because they are credit cards," she said.

"Credit and charge card fraud costs cardholders and issuers hundreds of millions of dollars each year," according to the Federal Trade Commission's Web site.

Both Davis and the FTC offer ways to avoid becoming the next victim.

"Be cautious," Davis said. "In general, unless you have initiated the transaction, nobody has any need to know your account number or expiration date. Banks don't even need that information to be able to find customers in the system."

The FTC backs up that advice.

"Don't give out your account number over the phone unless you're making the call to a company you know is reputable," according to the Web site. "If you have questions about a company, check it out with your local consumer protection office or Better Business Bureau."

Any attempts to obtain government card information should be reported, Davis said.

"If you receive a hoax e-mail or any other fraudulent requests, contact your agency program coordinator," Davis said.

If it is too late, and fraudulent charges appear on a credit card statement, there are still things cardholders can do to protect themselves, Davis said.

"Follow the standard information on the back of you credit card statement, and again, contact your agency program coordinator," Davis said.

While the cardholder is ultimately responsible for resolving the issue, the program coordinator can help work with the card company.

Once a card is lost or stolen, or any other type of fraud is detected, the customer should immediately call the credit card issuer, according to the FTC Web site.

"By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges," according to the site. "In any event, your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card."

Problems aside, the government travel and purchasing card programs are still a good thing, Davis said.

"The government charge card, though sometimes cumbersome, has been an effective program," she said. "It has saved time and money, and if used and safe guarded appropriately, is a good procurement tool."