I signed on to the Providian website to check if a payment had posted to my Visa card. Or, rather, I tried to. It wouldn’t let me sign on. It gave me a message to call their customer support line.

At first I figured I had just messed up the password. I tried their “reset password” feature… and one of the things it needed was my credit card number. But when I pulled out my wallet, I realized that my Providian Visa card was missing.

It’s not a card I actually use at this point. One of the features of the card is that it charges no interest on transferred balances until March ’06, so I’ve been moving the balance of my other cards over to it, and paying it down. So I hadn’t left it somewhere, since I don’t pull it out of it’s little slot behind my BofA Visa card. Y’know, ever. But this was worrisome.

It also dawned on me that the people in area code 925 who had been trying to get a hold of me for the past day might be connected with my missing Visa card. I called the number on their website, and, after figuring out how to bypass the automated “Please enter your 16-digit credit card number now” part (press 00), I was soon speaking to Stephen from Providian’s Fraud Division.

Stephen asked me to verfiy my social security number, then proceeded to let me know that there were some purchases on my card that had flagged their notice. Most of them were gas purchases. I told Stephen that I don’t even own a car, so it was unlikely that I had been filling up the tank. I told him about my most recent transactions (a payment and a balance transfer), and he was convinced. He cancelled the card, and is sending me a new one. I had previously thought that I would be liable for the first $50 of transactions, but Stephen said that I would likely be liable for none of the fraudulent transactions, provided their investigation shows that they were not mine. I’m confident that will happen.

I was a bit stunned, so I didn’t ask him the obvious question: how much had they charged to my card? I guess I’ll find out when the paperwork gets here.

But now I have to figure out how this happened. How did they get just that one card, and nothing else?

The only clue I have is a memory. I don’t recall the exact day, but I do remember an incident at my gym. I always keep my wallet in the same pocket (right rear), but there was a day last week where I came back to my gym locker after a workout, and when I went to put on my pants, my wallet was in the wrong pocket. I had looked at my wallet at the time, but didn’t see anything missing. My Providian Visa may have been missing, though; I might have failed to notice it because it’s usually hidden behind my BofA Visa.

I had brushed the incident off, but not without wondering if it was a phildickian moment, akin to the scene in “Time Out of Joint” where the hero goes down what he thought was a three-step stairway, but found it was only two steps.

Now, I believe that, somehow, someone had gotten into my locker, gone through my wallet, and stolen this credit card. Still seems strange to me, though. The simplest scenario is that I had forgotten to lock it. That feels unlikely to me, since, in addition to my wallet, I normally have my larger iPod, and my laptop, in my backpack, and I certainly did on the day of the above-described incident. That knowledge leads me to lock my locker every time I leave it. But memory is a fluid and fallible thing, so it’s possible I’m not remembering it.

Another oddness is that they didn’t take anything else of mine – my drivers’ license (yes, I have a drivers’ license but no car), my debit card and other Visa, my bus pass. But the thing about all of those is that they all have my picture on them – normal for drivers’ licenses and my permanent, county-issued bus pass, but thanks to Bank of America’s focus on security and customer service, both of my cards issued by BofA have my picture on them, as well. I want to give BofA a huge, wet, sloppy kiss for that.

At any rate, this should all turn out to be, if not a positive experience, at least not a negative one. I will probably not be out any money, I’m getting a replacement card, and nothing else seems to have been stolen. I’m going to have to be more cautious at the gym, though, and I might buy a new lock, just in case whoever got my card picked the lock. And, of course, I’ll have to pay close attention to see if any other personal information of mine was stolen, also.

Live and learn, I guess.