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About A Week: Card-Sharps

Peter Hinchliffe advises you to watch out when you wave the plastic about.

We were in a Leeds bookshop, buying a couple of paperbacks. Joyce was paying for them with her credit card. An ordinary, everyday transaction but not this time.

A shop assistant swiped the card through a machine, then said, "Sorry about this. I have to make a phone call."

The assistant was away for 10 minutes. She returned with unwelcome news. "The bank says it's OK to let this through but can you phone them as soon as possible," she told my wife.

Joyce found a quiet corner, then phoned the bank on her mobile.

"Did you order 145 worth of goods from Argos for home delivery?" she was asked.

"We've never ordered anything from Argos over the phone." said Joyce.

"Someone else has been using your card number," said the bank official. "They ordered goods to be sent to a different address to your home address. Argos queried this. The transaction was not allowed."

"How can this happen?" Joyce asked. "I never let the card out of my sight. The only time I hand it over is at cash tills in major stores and supermarkets. I keep all the receipts."

"A dishonest shop assistant can sell the number on," said the bank official.

Wonderful! Follow every recommendation on keeping credit cards safe, and the shysters still try to diddle you.

Small wonder that credit card fraud is on the increase. Plastic may be convenient for the shopper, but it also provides easy pickings for a thief. No need these days to go out and steal a TV. Nick the numbers embossed on a bit of plastic and have your Panasonic home delivered.

It's enough to make you long for those ancient times when pay still came in brown envelopes. Those olden days when bills were settled by counting out half-pence, tanners, half-dollars and ten-bob notes. There's immense satisfaction in having real cash placed in your grubby hands as a reward for honest labour.

My first pay was counted out coin by coin after I'd toiled in the muddy potato fields of Whitley. Having picked potatoes day-long during the autumn school hols I spent the hard-earned brass on ... guess what? Potatoes. Extra rations of chips with bits from Maurice's splendid Whitley fish 'ole.

The Services made a great palaver of giving cash in hand. Thursday was pay day during my RAF national service days in 1953. Hundreds of us lined up in neat rows, to be called out one by one in alphabetical order to approach the paying officer, who sat behind a trestle table which was covered in green baize.

Salute. Give the last three digits of your service number and your name. 309 Hinchliffe, sir! And 18 shillings were placed in your clammy paw.

One poor lad temporarily forgot his service number and gave the wrong three digits. His pay was temporarily withheld. He was placed on a charge and sentenced to work in the cookhouse, there to spend a week cleaning greasy baking tins.

Only once in my journalistic career did I have cash counted out into my hand. That was while working in Kenya for the Daily Nation newspaper. I wrote a story about the Japanese government putting up the money for a new road in Kenya.

Next day a Japanese gentleman appeared by my desk in the Nation office. He handed me a card which announced that he was a correspondent for the Tokyo newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Then, by means of hand gestures rather than his incomprehensible though very polite murmurs, he indicated that he wanted a new version of the road story.

I rattled off a quick 500 words on the typewriter while he stood and watched. Then he counted out a satisfyingly generous number of Kenyan notes into my outstretched hand. A most enjoyable way of doing business.

British banks are now losing millions of pounds every year to the credit card fraudsters.

Come to think of it, that last statement is not true. The banks are not the losers. They merely adjust the fees they charge their customers. It's bill-paying citizens who lose out to the card-sharp criminals.

And if you are the victim of credit card fraud in Britain, don't bother reporting the matter to the police. They no longer investigate credit card fraud. They tell you that it is the bank's responsibility to do so.

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