Sue Arnold : Help! My cloned plastic has run amok

'None of my friends were impressed ­ they all had better fraud stories of their own'

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My credit card was cloned last week – again. The first time it happened it was by someone who bought £3,000 worth of video nasties and allied porn on the internet in Canada. When the woman from the credit-card fraud department told me this I was less angry than surprised. Canada, I always thought, was full of healthy fresh-air freaks in lumberjack shirts with enormous checks who spent their free time trapping racoons, not sad perverts in dirty raincoats hunched over screens.

My credit card was cloned last week – again. The first time it happened it was by someone who bought £3,000 worth of video nasties and allied porn on the internet in Canada. When the woman from the credit-card fraud department told me this I was less angry than surprised. Canada, I always thought, was full of healthy fresh-air freaks in lumberjack shirts with enormous checks who spent their free time trapping racoons, not sad perverts in dirty raincoats hunched over screens.

This time it was someone who used my HSBC card to take £500 of deutschmarks from a cash machine in Germany, which was baffling because at almost precisely the same time as he was tapping my PIN number into that Dusseldorf cashpoint, I was tapping the same number into a hole in the wall in Oban for a modest £50.

"I don't understand how that could happen," I said to the woman in the fraud department. "I can see how you'd get away with it on the internet, but to withdraw cash you physically need a card, and I've got the card here in my hand.'' Criminals knew all the tricks, she said. If they had the relevant numbers they could make a card in five minutes. How spooky, I said. The fraud department woman snorted. It wasn't spooky, it was globalisation, she reckoned. We should never have built the Channel Tunnel.

That's the second time this week I've been treated to worldly wisdom from a stranger at the other end of the telephone. When I said plaintively to the girl at British Airways that buying an air ticket these days was as uncertain as playing the lottery (I had just bought a ticket for £350 which the day before would have cost £1,100), she replied crisply, "Everything in life is a lottery these days, even the lottery is the luck of the draw.''

Disappointingly none of the friends that I treated to my fraud story was remotely impressed. They all had better stories of their own. The one who works in Moscow had £28,000 worth of fraudulent cashpoint withdrawals on his last statement, taken from holes in the wall as far removed as Vaduz to Tashkent. My neighbour came up with the best scam. Checking through his August statement he saw he'd been charged £1,500 for a new computer plus an extra £20 for delivery. He rang the computer company. Yes, they said, the computer had been delivered as requested to the address he had given in south-east London, which turned out to be in Peckham.

Feeling very pleased with himself and a bit like Sherlock Holmes, my neighbour telephoned Barclaycard, advised them that the £1,500 was a fraudulent transaction but since he had the criminal's address they could go round and sort it out. "You must be joking,'' said the Barclaycard man, "if you want to play John Wayne go right ahead but I'm not risking my neck on a Peckham estate for a lousy computer." When my friend suggested that the fraud squad should be alerted he was told to save his breath. The police had bigger fish to fry.

All credit-card companies write off a certain percentage of fraud, particularly internet transactions, which are difficult to trace. But this wasn't difficult to trace, this was delivered to someone's house, my neighbour insisted, and if they went round right now, they would catch him red-handed, doubtless making more fraudulent transactions on his new stolen computer. Listen, said the Barclaycard man, a criminal with the chutzpah to get his stolen goods delivered to his door wouldn't think twice about blowing your brains out with a sawn-off shotgun.

I wonder why everyone assumes criminals are men. The most accomplished crook I've ever met was Charlene, my beautiful blonde roommate at the University of Colorado. Charlene not only shoplifted every item of clothing she had but had the gall to go back to the shop and ask for a refund if the goods proved to be faulty. Last I heard she was dating a vice-president at American Express – a clone probably.

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