As I drove into the park I checked the time on the clock. It was 9:36. I was later than I’d planned – by 6 minutes – because I’d stopped for gas on my way. Did the time matter? No, that’s just how I am sometimes. I had hoped to be home by 10:30 but that seemed unlikely. I wanted to run and wasn’t sure how far I’d make it.
Was it more important to be home early or run further? I hadn’t decided yet.
As I pulled into the lot at the back of the park, I mentally debated which spot to take. I pulled into one in front of the bathroom, just to the left of the walkway. Why did I put so much thought into which spot to take? The parking lot only had a few cars in it so it didn’t matter. I was going running so I didn’t need to park close to anything, after all I was there for the exercise. But that’s how I am.
I went into the bathroom and came out a few minutes later to find a black SUV parked in the spot next to my driver’s side. Their rear passenger door was open and I was annoyed because it was preventing me from opening my rear driver’s side door to get my sneakers. A man with dark complexion and black hair stood in front of the vehicle and motioned for me to get into my car. I told him I needed to get into the back, then indicated the open door.
As I did I noticed a woman at the back of their vehicle, the rear hatch open. I caught a glimpse of light brown wavy hair as she moved but I didn’t really pay attention.
The man spoke to me with an accent, his words mostly indistinguishable. He closed the door, and I was able to get into my car. I grabbed my gym bag and went to the passenger’s side to put on my shoes. The woman closed the hatch on their SUV, then both of them got into their vehicle and they drove away.
That’s odd, I thought, annoyed. They were there just long enough to get in my way.
I tied my sneakers and put on my knee brace. Grabbing my headphones I threw the bag back over to the driver’s side, slammed the door and locked it with the key fob. Hearing the double beep of the horn I started off through the parking lot toward the trail. As I half jogged, half walked through the lot I started the activity app on my Apple watch at 9:42, just 6 minutes after I entered the park. Then I picked up the pace a little.
I was moving slowly. I haven’t been running much and was recovering from a chest cold. I’d just finished an hour of yoga and really didn’t feel like going for a jog. I was hoping I’d feel better once I got to the wooded trail.
I didn’t. As I ran I convinced myself that one way or another it would be 2 miles before I got back to the car. I wasn’t going to feel less tired if I was walking and it would take longer to get back. That worked for the first mile, then I gave in. I walked the last mile and headed back to my car. I had been running 5 miles. Now I can’t even make it 2? Something has to change! I shut off the activity app: 10:12. Thirty minutes to go 2 miles?
With a mixture of frustration and determination I got back in my car and headed home. At home I jumped in the shower, quickly washing off the side effects of the run. As I got out of the shower my cell phone rang.
I wrapped a towel around me and answered. An automated female voice said, “Hello, this is Barclay card calling to report potentially fraudulent activity on your account. We must speak to you before you will be able to use your card.”
What? I immediately hung up. I don’t talk to people from credit card companies who call me. They could be anyone.
Looking at my phone I saw several text previews. All had the word FRAUD prominently in the message. I started to panic. Running into my kitchen I grabbed my wallet to get my credit card. I needed the number off the back so I could call them back to see what was going on. I could tell from the texts that more than one card was compromised. How had they gotten both those numbers?
That’s when I realized. All my credit cards, plus my debit card were missing.
Thinking back, it had to have been at the park. I got gas on my way to the park so I know I had my cards then. I came straight home afterward and I was home alone. It had to have been at the park.
I quickly called the bank to cancel my cards. It took 4 different people to do what had to be done, but they cancelled and reissued the cards. Only 1 transaction actually went through: $832.55 at Target. I wrote down the store number and the time of the transaction: 10:40. A second transaction in the amount of $900 was declined at 10:42. Another transaction for $900 on my debit card was also declined.
I called the second credit card company, regretting the collection of cards I’d accumulated. They had also declined a charge of $900 at Target.
Why hadn’t someone at the store realized this was happening? Self-checkout. As far as the store is concerned, so long as they get their money they don’t really care about anything else. It’s not their responsibility to make sure the credit card actually belongs to the person making the payment.
Once that one was cancelled I called the sheriff’s department. I met them back at the park and walked the officer through what happened. At first he thought I left my car unlocked, until we saw the bent lock and scratches on my driver’s door. Then he was convinced it was teenagers who broke into the vehicle. Apparently that happens a lot and he wasn’t convinced the man and woman I’d seen earlier were involved. And maybe they’re not.
But it seems like too big of a coincidence to ignore. What were they doing there? Why did the park right next to my driver’s door when the whole parking lot was empty? Why was their door open? Why did they leave so quickly?
None of it made sense – unless I interrupted them trying to break into my car. Then it all came clear. If their rear passenger door were open to block what they were doing from the prying eyes of people passing, then the fact they had parked right next to me made sense.
Even the officer had to agree with that logic. Forensics came and processed my car. I’m sure Target has them on video at their checkouts. But will they catch them? They made off with $832.55. My credit card company will reimburse that charge and write off the loss. All is good, right?
Except that they will keep doing this. They won’t stop. They didn’t get as much as they wanted to get but they got enough. I want to yell at the manager at Target for not having better controls. Why aren’t they responsible? When did we go from the cashier doing a perfunctory match of the signature on the card against a signature on the receipt to no validation for any charge?
I’m sure the argument would be that there’s no signature validation on the internet, so there doesn’t need to be one in the store. I’m sure they don’t want to get their staff involved. But how can we stop this if no one wants to be involved? There has to be some sort of validation. The fact that the credit card company has to eat the cost doesn’t fix the problem. That’s not enough.
No one wants to make it harder to buy things, but that’s the only way. There needs to be some sort of validation that the person making the charge is the person authorized to make the charge.
Do you agree?
This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Missing.