Suspicious Activity on Your VISA Debit Card


 “We see suspicious activity on your VISA debit card.”

Those are words you don’t want to hear from VISA. If you carry a debit card so you don’t have to carry a wad of cash, you have cause to worry. Perhaps security protocols failed to identify fraudulent use of your card. Someone could have removed all the cash from your checking account and your check won’t be any good either. In the ultimate case, a merchant might be the one who advises you your card has been refused for lack of funds. Imagine how embarrassing a public announcement of insufficient funds could be.

Was it VISA or a Scam?

In my case I received a telephone message from someone who claimed to be a VISA agent. Because the return number did not match the phone number on my card I suspected a scam. The agent who answered my return call immediately asked for my 16-digit card number for identification purposes. After my refusal to divulge my debit card number his advice was to contact my bank. I did… immediately… in person… not by telephone.

Talking to OnPoint

My Visa debit card was issued by an OnPoint Community Credit Union. Their representative quickly determined that the telephone call was legitimate. I had half a dozen charges on my card from California, Arizona, and Kansas… places that I have not been… paying for items I did not purchase… paying utilities I do not use…  VISA flagged my debit card for suspicious use… I got the phone call.

How VISA Works in a Perfect World

Google gave me a quick lesson in how the VISA card system works. A merchant who wants to accept purchases made with a VISA card arranges for a commercial account with his banker. In the case of a debit card the merchant receives immediate reimbursement from his banker. The merchant’s banker is immediately reimbursed by my bank who issued me a debit card. My banker immediately  withdraws the money from my account. In a perfect world… where buyer and seller are face to face… where everyone is connected… online transactions and card verifications can occur at the speed of light.

The Real World

In the real world… buyer and seller may not be face to face… connections can be tenuous to non-existent… bad guys find ways to defeat security protocols.

My card wasn’t lost or stolen. It remained in my possession. Someone had copied the 16-digit account number and used the card number off-line, avoiding security protocols for verification. Purchases were made without the physical presence of my card. What now?

Card Not Present Purchases

In cases like mine where the card was not present at the time of purchase, the merchant’s bank is responsible for determining if the buyer is legitimate. My bank is responsible for initiating an investigation at my request.

VISA was kind enough to warn me… I was able to prevent additional withdrawals from my checking account… but I am still on the hook to pay for those fraudulent charges already made.

Three Trips to OnPoint

In all I made three trips to OnPoint to resolve the issue.

One: The first OnPoint representative recommended cancelling my card and offered me a new card. I was told my account would be reimbursed if the charges were determined to be fraudulent in an investigation by Visa. I expected to be vindicated and reimbursed. I accepted the new debit card.

Two: After two months without reimbursement, I made a second trip to OnPoint. According to a OnPoint representative I had not filed a fraud report and now it was too late for reimbursement by OnPoint.

I was stunned… I had immediately contacted OnPoint in person, had my card cancelled and destroyed. I had declared the suspicious charges as fraudulent. What else could I do?

According to the OnPoint representative my only option is to personally call each point of sale merchant and petition/beg them for reimbursement. Visa and OnPoint claim no culpability and accept no blame for wrong-doing. I thought Visa and OnPoint should have demanded verification and denied those charges. Instead they chose to pass those charges on to me… protecting the merchant. 

So, dear reader, I began to think I had very little protection against fraudulent use of my debit card. I believe all agencies involved were too eager to accept fraudulent claims as legitimate. I no longer trusted the system to protect me. I decided to cancel my new debit card.

Three: On my third trip to OnPoint I canceled my new debit card and their representative filed a fraud report. She told me the investigation would take ten days to complete.

Stay tuned. We will see if my interests are protected.


The third trip was the charm. I received full reimbursement from OnPoint for all charges I declared fraudulent. That’s what zero liability is all about.

Story ByLarry

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The Klickitat Stump

“Ralph would like to see this stump” I thought to myself.

Ralph Anderson and petrified stump

I was looking at Google Earth and spotted a photo of a petrified stump near Klickitat, Washington. Someone who used the pseudonym “Curious Gorge” had posted the photo… I knew Ralph would like to see this stump.

I posted a note on my computer monitor to remind myself the next time Ralph stopped by to visit I would tell him about the petrified stump and we would make plans for a field trip.

Ralph Anderson, the big tree guy, a friend from high school, a carpenter most of his working life, now spends his retirement in search of big trees… champion trees. He measures those trees and submits the information to nominate the tree for championship status. He has traveled the world to look at trees.

Just as I thought, Ralph wanted to see the stump, so one pleasant day early this spring we made a field trip to Klickitat to see if we could find the tree stump. If the photo was posted at the exact location of the stump we had a pretty good idea where to find it. We would travel to those coordinates and start our search.

We drove about a mile up river from Klickitat and found a small roadside park, a good spot to stop and reconnoiter.  It was the location of an artesian mineral spring that was used as a source of carbon-dioxide gas to make dry ice.

While we were discussing our next move, Ralph decided to talk to our neighbor in the park and see if he knew anything about the stump. I could see an animated discussion going on… hand waving and finger pointing… so I decided to join the conversation.

The neighbor turned out to be “Curious Gorge” author Scott Cook.

Talk about serendipity… luck of the Irish… divine intervention… Ralph found the guy that took the photograph that launched our field trip… the guy who could give us exact directions to the stump… the guy who just happened to have a few copies of his book, “Curious Gorge”. We each bought an autographed copy.

Camera in hand we headed for the big stump… Eureka!

Photo and story by Larry Rea

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Oregon is an Island

Marvin Kellar where the Oregon border comes ashore  near Umatilla

“Dry land at last,” said Marvin, “I was beginning to think Oregon is an island.”

We were trying to circumnavigate Oregon as an adventure. We started the furthest south, where California and Oregon join with the Pacific Ocean and headed north toward the Columbia River. Oregon’s boundary is a nautical league offshore… that’s about three miles of water for those unfamiliar with nautical terms.

Oregon’s boundary then follows the Columbia River 309 river miles upstream, zig-zagging with the flow of the river, until just about 17 miles east of the McNary dam near Umatilla where the 46th parallel comes ashore heading easterly, forming the rest of the boundary with Washington.

“That’s about 660 miles by water so far,” I replied. “We have about 100 miles of dry land before we reach the Snake River where Oregon, Washington, and Idaho form a tri-corner about a mile below the confluence with Cache Creek.”

“Can we drive any of that?”

“Just a few miles along the state line near Walla Walla, the rest is wilderness.”

“So, what now?”

“We can follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and use water grade… the Snake River is tributary to the Columbia… we will have to do some of that by boat.”

“Do you know what Walla Walla means in Wiradjuri?”

“Probably not the same thing it means to the Walla Walla Nation.”

“It’s ‘the place of many rocks’ in Wiradjuri.”

“OK… so far we have been the farthest south, west and north on land in Oregon but the legal boundary has been covered with water… now we are headed for the farthest east in Oregon… guess what?… it’s in the water… in the Snake River.”

“Just as I suspected… Oregon is an island… it has water all around… that’s the exact definition of an island.”

Photos and story byLarry

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Anyone have a dollar?

Longview Bridge 1.65 miles downriver from Rainier, OR

Recently several of us were reminiscing about the good old days when we were teenagers in high school back in the 1950’s… barely old enough for a driver’s license and still using the family car, very occasionally, for transportation.

Rainier was a small town… you could walk from one end to the other in 15 minutes… not much going on. Longview was a much bigger town… and much more exciting. But it was about four miles away and involved using a toll bridge to cross the Columbia River. Technically the toll bridge was named “The Longview Bridge” but only the citizens of Longview called it by the official name… to those living in Rainier it was “the Bridge.”

In those days it cost a dollar to drive cross the Bridge… two dollars if you counted on coming back to Oregon… wages were $1.35 per hour so the toll was a big chunk out of the weekly paycheck for a working man. The Bridge toll made access to the excitement of Longview nearly impossible for an unemployed teenager from Rainier.

Floyd was telling the story: “We reduced the individual cost of crossing the Bridge by taking a carload and splitting the toll.

“One day six of us loaded into a car and headed for the YMCA in Longview and on the way back, just as we approached the toll booth, we realized we didn’t have a dollar to pay the toll. We didn’t even have the ten cents each it cost to walk across the bridge. What now?

“While we were discussing the dilemma, Donny, who was driving, suddenly stomped on the gas and accelerated past the toll booth without stopping to pay. All of us were whooping and hollering… Donny was so excited he wet his pants.

“The Bridge was about a mile and a half from downtown Rainier where the city cop was waiting for us. He pulled us over, walked up to the driver’s side window, leaned in and said: ‘First time I ever caught six criminals in one car.’

“The whooping and hollering was over… done… we were a subdued bunch cowering before the eyes of the law, waiting for the harsher sentence: ‘Tell your sad story to the judge.’

“Perhaps he had pity on us… our situation… for then he said: ‘Don’t let it happen again.’

Darwin added to Floyd’s story: “Maybe he had pity on you because his son was also in the car.”

(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Story and photo ByLarry

The Longview Bridge has been toll-free since 1965 and has been renamed “The Lewis and Clark Bridge”

For a history of the Bridge

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Photo of a Snowy Owl in Oregon

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl near Burns, Harney County, Oregon 18 Dec 2011



“What do you think?” said Marvin, “The newspaper reported a Snowy Owl has been sighted near Burns. Maybe we can catch a photo of a bird rarely seen in Oregon.”

“It is the middle of December,” I replied, “and typically really, really cold in the high desert… It’s 334 miles from here to Burns… a long drive in winter conditions… through the Cascade mountains… snow on the ground… ice on the roads… but traffic cams show roads clear of snow… It’s a pretty crazy thing for a couple of old codgers from the valley to do… Let’s go for it. We have a reputation to uphold.”  

“That owl will draw a lot of attention from bird watchers… we may need reservations to stay in Burns…  Be sure to bring your arctic parka and mittens… maybe a pair of long-johns.”

Marvin secured reservations at our favorite motel in Burns… we loaded our gear into my 4WD Blazer and headed for Harney County. As reported the highway was clear of ice and snow so we enjoyed a scenic drive across the state of Oregon… mid-winter… didn’t need to use tire chains.

“The paper said the owl was seen at milepost six on highway 78 south of Burns… that’s been over a week ago… do you suppose the owl will still be there?”

“Let’s drive out to mile post six and look… we don’t have better information. If it is not there we can go to plan B.”

Sure enough… milepost six… perched on a fence-post next to the road… oblivious to traffic on the highway and cars stopping to park roadside… ignoring camera-toting birdwatchers striving for a better close-up shot… sat a Snowy Owl… apparently reveling in the attention it was receiving.

We exhausted the sweet light of sunset, collecting great shots of the Snowy owl… perched like a statue on a fence-post.

We came back the next morning and exhausted the sweet light of sunrise… we collected more great shots of the Snowy owl… perched like a statue on a fence-post.

 The owl occasionally shifted its feet and occasionally swiveled its head to look around but otherwise there wasn’t much action.

“What is our plan B?” said Marvin, “Maybe…”

“Good idea.” I said, starting the engine of the car. “We can head over to the Malheur Refuge and check the action there. We might see something interesting.”

story and photo byLarry

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