What to do about Latvia

September 2, 2005, 10:38 AM

I am a trusting person. I don’t tend to doubt people until they give me reason to do so. But sometimes I am fairly cautious. I don’t want to assume the worst, but I also don’t want to invite disaster.

A few days ago I got an unusual order online from a customer from Latvia. At first I was a little bewildered, especially the choice of shipping method was quite expensive, and then I figured I should do a bit of research before shipping off the order.

When I run an authorization a credit card transaction, several security checks are performed by the payment gateway. The billing address and zip code are checked against the address associated with the account. The system also checks the little card verification code usually present on a signature panel.

One problem with international transactions is that address verification service doesn’t usually work. If I recall correctly, one UK transaction had successful address verification process. But most of the time the processing gateway isn’t able to verify that the billing address matches.

It turns out that Latvia is a hotbed of credit card fraud. I called my bank to ask what I should do about the transaction, and I think their official policy is to make no recommendation, so they weren’t much help. But I was able to get information about the bank that issued the credit card, and so I could now call Latvia to request verification thatIthe cardholder matches up with the address given. They aren’t under any obligation to do so, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay even my decent Vonage rates to call the bank until I had some additional reason to believe the transaction was legitimate.

I’m relatively hands-on with my web customers. A few weeks ago, someone ordered some dragon beard candy with a gift card that left me with the impression that this was a business gift. The only thing was that they ordered the “love” gift wrapping, meant for romantic occasions. So I called her up to make sure that’s what she really wanted. She was relieved because she didn’t think her client’s wife would appreciate that very much.

Frequently somebody chooses an invalid shipping method or chooses some option that leaves me confused, so I usually email and then call to determine what they really want. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to get whatever little issue resolved, but it usually prevents mistakes and sometimes results in more loyal customers, so I consider it worth the extra time.

With international transactions, usually I need to clarify some details relating to shipping or something. My online store software has some issues with international shipping quote retrieval. Also, I usually want to make sure I know something about the customer.

So finally, Wednesday night I sent an email to the customer asking them to create a document that would authorize their bank to release verification information. I just asked them if it would be possible to do so, and explained what they should authorize. I think it would be a received as a fairly reasonable request.

So far, I haven’t heard any response, so I’m leaning toward canceling the transaction.

Common international credit card fraud indicators include differing billing/shipping addresses, and using a U.S.-originating card for a transaction being sent abroad. While far from conclusive, they indicate a higher probability of a stolen credit card.

In this case, those indicators were not present. But the customer didn’t ask about alternative shipping methods and chose a relatively expensive shipping option relative to the size of the order, without asking any questions. I’ve had perfectly legitimate orders from Japan, England, Italy and Germany, but I usually had to work out some details regarding shipping.