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Credit Card Scams

In “Managing Mom’s Money,” J.D. Roth relates various credit card scams that are difficult to avoid and impossible to get out of once in.

When I took over Mom’s finances 18 months ago, I found a number of odd recurring charges, both to her credit cards and her checking account. When I began calling the phone numbers listed on the statements, I discovered that most of these charges were different types of credit and life insurance.

I was able to cancel a couple of these charges by phone, but most required more effort and more detective work. In other words, they needed more time. Because time is scarce in my life, I put off the problem until the next month. And the next. And the next. Eventually, a year slipped by, during which time I continued to diligently pay these miscellaneous fees.

Finally, last Tuesday I took action. I spent an entire morning calling around in an attempt to cancel these charges. I didn’t have much luck.

While companies make it easy to obtain services, it’s much more difficult to quit. I’m certain they didn’t ask Mom for any sort of ID verification when she signed up, but in order for me to cancel, it’s not enough that I know her name, address, birthday and Social Security number. It’s not enough that I have power of attorney. In order for me to cancel, they need me to sign forms, to fax copies of the power of attorney or to have my mother grant approval. So, my work isn’t finished yet.

I also discovered that Mom has six different life-insurance policies through two different companies. “I wonder why she has so many policies,” I said to my brother. “She doesn’t even need one — nobody relies on her income, so there’s no need for her to have it.”

“You have to be careful,” my brother said. He’s been getting Mom’s mail. “I’ve noticed that sometimes these places send what look like bills, but if you send in payment, you’re actually signing up for yet another insurance policy. It almost fooled me once. There’s no way Mom would have caught it. No wonder she has six different life-insurance policies.”

Together, these life-insurance policies are costing Mom nearly $1,500 per year. And for what? We’re not sure. We can’t find any sort of documentation, so we don’t know what her coverage is.

I found a couple of these sort of recurring charges on my wife’s accounts after she died fourteen months ago.  I’m still paying American Express some $12 a month to monitor her credit reports (she’d been a frequent victim of identity theft, so likely signed up for it) because I can’t get it canceled and it hasn’t been worth the aggravation to fight them over it. I’ve called half a dozen times and it never goes away.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. Montanareddog says:

    And Congressional Republicans are doing their damnedest to nullify the CFPB. These kinds of probably-legal but decidedly immoral business practices are exactly what that organization ought to be challenging.

    Do these people never stop to think that by using laissez faire arguments to defend the indefensible, they end up undermining faith in free markets? That free markets and devil take the hindmost exploitation are not synonymous – they are enemies?

    And, James. Can I ask why you have not tried to use your prominent online profile to name and shame Amex before now?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  2. Just Me says:

    About 15 years ago my husband worked nights while going to school full time. He was asleep one day and he got a call offering some kind of travel program (somewhat like triple A but not exactly). While sleeping he agree to sign up (he never remembered the phone call or signing up but the records indicated he was the one who signed me up).

    The creditcard company and the travel program were refusing to cancel because he signed up for it and apparently you can’t cancel until you hit some window.

    What got the charge removed was the fact that this particular card was one I got before marriage and I never added him as an authorized user for the card.

    Needless to say the credit card companies and the scammers work together to make it easy to get signed up but almost impossible to get cancelled.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. beth says:

    When I took over handling my mom’s finances, I found she was writing small checks every month to different charities. I asked her how much she wanted to donate and told her I would write one large check per year. She replied that she wasn’t donating; she was paying for address labels that came in the mail. She said she couldn’t remember ordering them but since they kept coming she thought she must be ordering them. She was spending about $50 per month on this. All of the charities were well respected organizations. They certainly aren’t scamming but I wonder how much they pull in from elderly people with these tactics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’ve called half a dozen times and it never goes away.

    Document it in writing. Send it via certified mail- return receipt requested. Then refuse to pay it by blocking the charge at the bank. That will get their attention (and threats) and then you can get their attention (with threats) by showing the documentation.

    It should go away soon there after.

    I hate these scammers. They depend upon intimidation and procrastination and endless hurdles to skim their vig off your checking account.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. MarkedMan says:

    James, I gotta hit you on this one. Your party is the go-to team for these types of scammers. The Republicans do everything in their power 24/7 to keep “big gummit” off the backs of these sleaze bags.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. Gustopher says:

    If the credit card company isn’t helpful getting these charges reversed, cancel the card.

    First, it puts the onus of getting the money on the scammers. Second, it might discourage the credit card company.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. C. Clavin says:

    If you didn’t have credit cards in the first place you wouldn’t have this problem…or many others related to them…like identity theft.
    I got rid of all of mine last century.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. C. Clavin says:

    And I agree with MarkedMan….
    What kind of Conservative is

    “…still paying American Express some $12 a month to monitor her credit reports…”

    I guess it’s one thing when spending is abstract…another when it is specific.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. Franklin says:

    If it takes more than one phone call to the offender, I would cancel the charges on the credit card. Yes, that requires one form as well, but that should take care of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: And how. I monitor whatever gets charged to my credit card every month. Getting rid of the yearly charges for a web-site was the worst. Took a lot of squawking and several physical (and registered) letters. Then there was getting rid of the sports club membership….oy vey.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Ben says:


    Document it in writing. Send it via certified mail- return receipt requested. Then refuse to pay it by blocking the charge at the bank. That will get their attention (and threats) and then you can get their attention (with threats) by showing the documentation.

    There’s no payment to block at the bank. Amex just adds the billed amount onto your card balance each month. If you don’t pay that, then they mark your account delinquent, send you to collections and trash your credit score.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. BIll says:


    Call AE Corporate. I did that when I tried cancelling AOL and was getting the run around. The AOL person in VA took care of me.

    More recently I had a internet archive service yearly subscription. It was renewed automatically but 3 months later the company charged me again. I said hold it, I’m yearly, you only bill me one time you know.(A check of my online account showed they had charges planned for the future too. Their advertised yearly rate was $71, I initially paid $31, they charged me $47 for year two, and then another $47 3 months later) So refund me the second charge. Initially they wouldn’t do it(then made a bogus partial credit offer of $16. Still more than their advertised rate. My being charged $78 compared to $71 advertised), then I disputed the charge with my credit card company and at the same time applied heavy duty pressure on the archive service. They’re out of Iowa, I told them I’d call the Cedar Rapids police if they didn’t credit my card. They folded in less than 2 days time. Lesson for anyone out there- Don’t do business with newspaperarchive.com.

    I’ve also fought BCBS of Florida and won. James you can get the charges stopped. Ask for a supervisor, tell them you’re recently widowed with two children under the age of 5, You have tried multiple times to get the charges stopped with success. If AE doesn’t stop it this time, tell them you’ll go to the press. That threat usually works in a case like this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0