WWYD: The Wrong Credit Card Number

You guys seemed to really enjoy the idea of a WWYD series yesterday, and I received a few situations from readers in my inbox last night. Here’s one from J.—it’s a good one!

In 2003 my (now) wife and I took our first overseas trip. We were going to go to London, where her cousin lives, and in the middle of the stay we’d go to Barcelona. At her cousin’s suggestion we booked the Barcelona trip via a British travel agency that specializes in combined airfare/hotel package deals. I made the arrangements by phone, which included giving them my credit card information, then got an email confirming everything was set. Three nights in a hotel plus round-trip airfare—I don’t remember what the cost was but it was on the order of $400-$500.

Right before we left for Britain I realized that I hadn’t seen any of the charges show up on my credit card. When we got there, my wife’s cousin had the plane tickets and other paperwork (they had requested a local address), which had our names on them, but the receipt had somebody else’s credit card number. (Like, it wasn’t one or two digits off, it was wildly different.)

So: What would you do? We decided not to say anything. Our thought was that, if a charge that large showed up on somebody else’s card, OBVIOUSLY they would call and dispute it. Once that got back to the travel agency, they would figure out what went wrong and contact us (which they had multiple methods of doing). But I felt guilty about it. Then while we were in Barcelona we BOTH got our pockets picked within 12 hours of each other and lost more than 200 euros in cash, which I always suspected was karmic payback. (But, on the plus side, we never heard anything from the travel agency, ever.) — J.

Okay, it’s Mike, again. I would have called the agency and said something because: Catholic guilt. WWYD?


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line.

Photo: Platform London


43 Comments / Post A Comment

BananaPeel (#1,555)

No way. This isn’t a situation with a “victimless crime” and that several hundred dollars could have been the tipping point for something in the other person’s finances (overdrawn account, maxed-out card, etc.)

i would call just so i didn’t have to think about it anymore. well, i would want to call. i would put it on my list to call. actually i think i would call immediately. or else it’d be like 20 years later and every time I logged into my account I’d be waiting for the $500 charge to be there. NOPE.

BananaPeel (#1,555)

@Logan Sachon excellent point about the anxiety in re: waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Slutface (#53)

I would ignore it too. Because I’ve gone through something similar and it was months of back and forth trying to get anyone to try to figure it out, they said they fixed it and I still wasn’t charged.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@Slutface Me too for the same reasons. I probably would’ve put the $500 aside in a HISA for a little while in case I had to pay after the fact. And I wouldn’t have felt the slightest bit guilty about doing so.

@Slutface Word. I have been on both sides of this one, and in my personal anecdotal experience, it’s a lot easier to be on the “charged” side than the “not charged” side. I got the charges taken right off my account, but the infrastructure for “I need to be charged” isn’t really in place at my issuing banks. YMMV

Megano! (#124)

I’m…surprised the charge even went through, because if the credit card/expiration date/AND that three digit number on the back all matched that’s a pretty big coincidence. But I still would have said something, because you totally did steal from someone, and if it had been me, well, your $500 is a third of my monthly budget. Not cool.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Megano! Well, I think it was probably more of a mix-up on the agency’s end – like putting somebody else’s info in the wrong box or on the wrong sheet. In which case: I’m surprised that then J.’s info didn’t show up on somebody else’s trip and therefore charged – like a classic switch.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Megano! Did we have to do the three digit on the back of the card thing in 2003? I can’t remember. I don’t think we started doing that in the States until 2008 or so. And I agree with you, you can’t take a vacation that you didn’t pay for.

Megano! (#124)

@josefinastrummer Oh, I have no idea, I wasn’t old enough to have a credit card in 2003.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Megano! Hahaha way to make me feel really old! I remember when we didn’t have to use the three digit number on the back and when we walked four miles in the snow uphill to school…

loren smith (#2,300)

@Megano! Wouldn’t you just call your company and be like “I’m not traveling to Spain”? When someone stole my credit card and ate up an entire McD’s and stayed at a shitty hotel, I didn’t have to foot the bill.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

I agree that the person who was charged could easily call to dispute the payment. And I’m not saying you should have immediately called to notify the agency in the middle of a short trip (it can take time to post things too and why spend time on the phone when you should be enjoying Barcelona). BUT, I definitely would have said something if it wasn’t there when I got home. Because it could have cost someone their job, and because it would feel like stealing.

And I totally like this series idea!

wearitcounts (#772)

having just been through the experience where a HUGE payment went through my account twice instead of once, thus incurring fees on the next seven purchases with my debit card (as i had no reason to believe i had less than a thousand dollars in my account) totaling in $245, i would have to say that you should definitely have said something. putting someone through the rigamarole of having to prove that the charge was unauthorized is kind of awful, and that money doesn’t get returned to them like, straight away or anything. plus i think i’d just be paranoid that it would get traced back to me and i wouldn’t have any way to prove i didn’t just steal somebody’s credit card info.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@wearitcounts Something similar happened to me when my apartment’s management company briefly did credit card payments and a payment cleared my debit card but didn’t show up on their end. Oh my god, the most stressful possible thing, I can’t even.

wearitcounts (#772)

@aetataureate I KNOW. i’m lucky in that i have a friend who knows someone high enough up at the bank i use to reverse all my fees for me. but still. going to pay for my car’s new starter and realizing i only had $14 in my account was pretty much a nightmare.

zou bisou (#1,637)

Wow, really? What the hell, guy. You just took a trip to Barcelona with a plus one and didn’t think “No, we really should pay for this ourselves?!” I’m unhappy you got robbed, b/c I have been mugged, and it is scary. But I do believe in karma, and my was it clear in this instance!

As someone who does not check her debit card bill regularly (it’s 90%charges for my company cafeteria and 10% random splurges), I am pretty angry about this story. I’ll bet that poor unsuspecting person never realized they got swindled.

shannowhamo (#845)

@zou bisou I don’t think it’s enraging to think that someone doesn’t want to have to inconvenience themselves for someone else’s mistake that benefits them. I think the onus is on the person who lost money (if anyone did, since it’s possible the card never went through and the agency ate the cost.) I check my bank account multiple times a day and have alerts set up if it dips below a certain amount; must be nice to only pay for work lunch. I’d probably have called but I don’t think it’s morally reprehensible that he didn’t.

Anyway, I am mostly remnided that I was SO paranoid about getting mugged in Barcelona and when I got there felt so silly, seemed totally chill and not dangerous. But of course this story happened in 2003…maybe all the pickpockets have quit or something.

loren smith (#2,300)

@zou bisou maybe now’s the time to start keeping better tabs on that?

zou bisou (#1,637)

@shannowhamo must be nice? You sound extremely bitter. I support myself entirely but I still write checks for my major bills. It helps me keep track of things more efficiently.

The onus is on the person who is AWARE of the situation, regardless of whether he stands to gain or lose.

cmcm (#267)

@zou bisou On the other hand, they could easily have been the ones who never check their credit card statement and might never have realised they weren’t charged.

zou bisou (#1,637)

Another thing: if a guy I was dating thought this was morally justifiable, I wouldn’t want to marry the guy. Honesty and accountability are two exceedingly important qualities for a person to have.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@zou bisou Correct on all counts.

I think I’d come forward, because it would be the honest thing to do. But also: Let’s say the other credit card holder did question the charge and it was taken off. Ok. Then who gets screwed? Is it the travel agency that’s out of the money then? I don’t think it’s the credit card company. I’d hate to think that this nice travel agency was out of the money because I didn’t come forward.

readyornot (#816)

@paula_martin@twitter this raises a question I don’t think any of us have the answer to. If it either wasn’t a valid number OR was and got disputed by the actual credit card owner, who pays? It might be the airline and hotel provided services they didn’t get paid for, it might be the travel agency, or it might be the credit card company’s liability insurance. Anybody know?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@readyornot An invalid number would just not work, and a successfully disputed charge disappears forever. So the travel agency would eat the cost, as of course they would have paid the hotel and airline directly themselves.

probs (#296)

I would have said something. The person whose card it was may not use that card often, and may not check it frequently, and I think there’s often a window for disputing charges. And even if they don’t have any trouble disputing, it’s still basically assigning strangers a chore that is yours and has nothing to do with them. Like, I wouldn’t be losing sleep over it now, odds are overwhelmingly in the favor of things working out just fine for whoever’s card that was, but I would’ve called. Also, how did the company fuck up that badly.

aetataureate (#1,310)

Uh, yeah, this is stealing.

I would absolutely call (mostly for the same reason as Logan, and because to not call is stealing), but I’m surprised by the number of people who think that calling to fix it = the travel agency reversing the charge to the other person, and possibly that the charge might be reversed immediately. We don’t even know that this mythical other person WAS charged, it might have been an entirely made up credit card number.

While yes, I think he should call and fix it because you should pay for things, I don’t think he should call and fix it because he has a responsibility to the other cardholder. The company had a responsibility to the cardholder, and the cardholder has the responsibility to check his/her accounts and dispute mistakes. Not this guy.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

How is this even a question? I worry about the moral character of somebody that even has to think about this.

I wish there was some way I could jump into this comment thread with a “You guys! Too judgey!” But, um…

honey cowl (#1,510)

@stuffisthings Um yes I just tried to do that, and probs failed.

@Lauren Haha, per your below comment, it IS possible that I might be the sort of person who would maybe do this? Or have done this at some point? (Most likely rationalizing that some evil credit card company would eat the cost.)

But I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone on the Internet to come to my defense!

EDIT: I’m not saying I HAVE, of course.

ThatJenn (#916)

@stuffisthings Oh good I’m not the only person who would at least consider doing this.

But yeah, I would totally expect to be blasted and called a thief on the internet if I ever admitted it.

(no, I’m not the J who wrote this note.)

honey cowl (#1,510)

I don’t think there is any possibility that someone who is on the other side of this would pipe up and say anything. Why admit it? You look like a horrible person if you do!

ghechr (#596)

Not only on moral grounds, but I’d call the first thing to clear it up. I’d be worried that we’d get to a hotel and then suddenly be told that my reservation was cancelled for lack of payment or something and then I’d have to wander the streets until sunrise.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

I just emailed my real estate agent because he said he’d be direct debiting my rent yesterday and there’s nothing showing up in my online banking that says anything’s come out.
I don’t want to be charged interest on this or anything, so now this is in writing, I can use it as proof that I’m doing all I can to make this tenancy work, so this doesn’t bite me and Mr TARDIStime in the arse later.

allyscully (#2,815)

There’s a confluence of things here that would make me call the travel agency–after calling my credit card company, to make sure the charge wasn’t just delayed or maybe even preemptively canceled because it looked fraudulent, coming from a foreign country while I was still in the US?–the amount of money, the involvement of three different countries and probably another person’s credit card information. But, if it were a smaller purchase that I just didn’t get charged for, like if I had bought a coffee and they swiped my card but I never got charged for it, the opposite of the last WWYD, I probably wouldn’t call Starbucks like “please charge me again”.

ThatJenn (#916)

I would call, but not immediately (I’d wait to see if it cleared up on its own first) – maybe at the end of the month when it still hasn’t gone through. But I don’t think you’re a Bad Person for not calling. I’ve let mistakes kinda like this just slide before (nothing this big, really, but I’ve been not-charged for things and not spoken up when my margins were a lot thinner financially). I get why you didn’t call, but I am guessing – from the fact that you are still thinking about this nine years later – that you probably wouldn’t do the same thing again. And that’s why I’d call, so I wouldn’t still be thinking about it nine years later.

julnyes (#2,807)

I would call and clear it up – because otherwise I’m stealing from someone else.

mof (#342)

I would call to clear it up. It’s simply the kind thing to do. Besides, the agency should be aware that their system is faulty for future transactions.

I would like to say that obviously I would do the right thing (which is CLEARLY paying the bill yourself) here.

However, I sent a final rent check about 4 months ago that has never been cashed… After following up with my ex-landlord, he never bothered to reply to me. I’m assuming the check never got there and just keep a buffer of $500 in my account in case. So, maybe I’m just as bad. Not sure.

nate@twitter (#366)

@langedangereux this is not the same thing. The random credit card holder didn’t screw this one up, but if she doesn’t notice the charge, she’s out a bunch of money for it. Your landlord? Either he misplaced the check or it got lost in the mail and he couldn’t be bothered to respond to your email. It’s not your responsibility to manage his finances. You are absolved! :makes Popelike blessing motion:

Comments are closed!