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Beating Fraud with SMS

Recently, a well-timed SMS message saved me from red-faced, empty-pocketed embarrassment.

I’m just back from a trip to the States, as my last few blogs might have hinted.

One of the last things I do before leaving the country is of course returning my hire car at the airport. The task right before that is finding a gas station that is as close as possible to the airport, so I can be sure I’ve left the car with a full tank of gas.

In the past I took one of two approaches. If I was thinking ahead when I landed, then I would check out gas stations as I left the rental lot. But often I’d forget, or if I happened to land at two o’clock in the morning (thank you British Airlines and Goose Bay), then I’d be more focused driving straight than looking at the sights. In that case, I’d play the game of ‘gas chicken’: how many perfectly good gas stations would I drive straight past before I pulled in? This one is especially fun if you’re not 100% sure where the airport is.

Thanks to my favourite driving app, Waze, I no longer need to worry as it can tell me the nearest (and cheapest) gas stations on route.

But there is one problem Waze can’t solve: paying for my tank of gas.

In the US, a lot of gas stations have implemented a security system that requires you to enter your zip code when you pay at the pump with your credit card. That’s all well and good, unless you don’t have a zip code — which many people who live outside the US do not.

As a friend discovered, making up a zip code just blocks your card. And then you need to make a very expensive call home to unlock it.

One solution appears to be becoming Canadian, as they have their own special workaround, but that seems a wee bit extreme in this case.

So after failing to get any card accepted at the pump, and cancelling out of the transaction, I had to join the queue inside and prepay for the gas (which is another fun game for a former maths teacher: I wonder how gas I need to buy? If unleaded is 3.79 per gallon…).

But when I swiped again inside, I guess it raised a red flag at my credit card company, which declined the transaction. Rather than leave me there red-faced and unable to pay, or forcing me to make an expensive call back to the UK, I got a very welcome text message:

SMS Alert

I sent a quick reply via SMS – and got it all sorted. Awesome!

This is another great example of how adding SMS to a service can improve security and give a better experience to the consumer.