My friends from USAA tell me that there has been an uptick in fraudulent credit card activity lately, and reports from friends and acquaintances confirm that it's happening all over the country and across all credit cards. Short of not having credit card accounts, there is no way you can absolutely prevent your account information from being mis-used, but there are many things you can do to decrease your risk and mitigate any possible damages.
Lower Your Risk
- Always, always check card readers before using them to see if they have been altered or had "skimmers" attached to them. This is something that I need to practice!
- Doing online banking through public WiFi. It's tempting - I'm pretty sure I've done it - to check bank stuff when you have a spare minute, even if you happen to be in your doctor's waiting room or having your oil changed. Public WiFi connections are never secure.
- Ignore emails, texts, or phone calls claiming to be from your credit card company. Hackers are very creative and convincing, and they can make it look like they're legitimately from your bank or card issuer. Never disclose any information through a connection that you didn't initiate. If you think it might be legit, call the company directly or log-on to your account using your home internet connection.
- Don't carry all your cards. Most people have multiple credit cards, but have a favorite one or two cards that they use regularly. Take the other cards out of your wallet and leave them at home!
- Let your card issuer know if you'll be travelling. This will make your trip easier by lowering the chances of declined transactions.
- Consider putting a credit freeze on your credit reports. It will make it a little more inconvenient for you to obtain new credit, but it will make it significantly harder for criminals to open new accounts in your name.
- Cardholders are key players in catching fraudulent activity. Set up spending alerts on your accounts, check your account regularly, and report anything suspicious immediately.
- Don't procrastinate reporting a mis-placed card. It's easy to think, "Oh, I'm sure it is in a jeans pocket in the laundry." If it's not there, you've given the thieves a valuable head start. Call and freeze or cancel credit and debit cards the minute you know they are missing. Yes, it is inconvenient, but a heck of a lot less inconvenient that dealing with actual fraud.
I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all credit and debit card fraud disappear, but that's not going to happen. Instead, take these simple steps to make it harder for fraudsters to target your accounts.