How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

protecting yourself from credit card theft

Last fall, I received an email that appeared to be from my web host. The email claimed that there was a problem with my payment information and asked me to update it. I clicked on the link in the email and entered my credit card number, thinking that a recent change I’d made to my site must have caused a problem.

The next morning, I logged onto my credit card account to find two large unauthorized purchases. A scammer had successfully phished my payment information from me.

This failure of security is pretty embarrassing for a personal finance writer. I know better than to click through an email link claiming to be from my bank, credit card lender, or other financial institution. But because the email came from a source that wasn’t specifically financial (and because I was thinking about the changes I had made to my website just the day before), I let myself get played.

Thankfully, because I check my credit card balance daily, the scammers didn’t get away with it. However, it’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you’re not stuck with the cleanup, which took me several months to complete.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. 

Protecting your physical credit card

Stealing your physical credit or debit card is in some respects the easiest way for a scammer to get their hands on your sweet, sweet money. With the actual card in hand, a scammer has all the information they need to make fraudulent purchases: the credit card number, expiration date, and the security code on the back.

That means keeping your physical cards safe is one of the best ways to protect yourself from credit card theft. Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in a bulging wallet makes it more likely someone could steal one when you’re not paying attention and you may not realize it’s gone if you have multiple cards.

Another common place where you might be separated from your card is at a restaurant. After you’ve paid your bill, it can be easy to forget if you’ve put away your card (especially if you’ve been enjoying adult beverages). So make it a habit to confirm that you have your card before you leave a restaurant.

If you do find yourself missing a credit or debit card, make sure you call your bank immediately to report it lost or stolen. The faster you move to lock down the card, the less likely the scammers will be able to make fraudulent charges. Make sure you have your bank’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is stolen or lost. (See also: Don’t Panic: Do This If Your Identity Gets Stolen)

Recognizing card skimmers

Credit card thieves also go high-tech to get your information. Credit card skimmers are small devices placed on a legitimate spot for a card scanner, such as on a gas pump or ATM. 

When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer device captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record you entering your PIN so the fraudster has all the info they need to access your account.

The good news is that it’s possible to detect a card skimmer in the wild. Gas stations and ATMs are the most common places where you’ll see skimmer devices. Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it, as the legitimate credit card scanner is supposed to. Other red flags to look for are scanners that seem to jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a pin pad that appears thicker than normal. All of these can potentially indicate a skimmer is in place. 

If you find something that looks hinky, go to a different gas station or ATM. Better safe than sorry. (See also: 18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen)

Protecting your credit card numbers at home

Your home is another place thieves will go searching for your sensitive information. To start, you likely receive credit card offers, the cards themselves, and your statements in the mail. While mail theft is relatively rare (it’s a federal crime, after all), it’s still a good idea to make sure you collect your mail daily and put a hold on it when you go out of town.

Once you get your card-related paperwork in the house, however, you still may be vulnerable. Because credit card scammers are not above a little dumpster diving to get their hands on your credit card number. This is why it’s a good idea to shred any paperwork with your credit card number and other identifying information on it before you throw it away.

Finally, protecting your credit cards at home also means being wary about whom you share information with over the phone. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call of your own volition — not because you’re calling someone who left a voicemail — you should never share your credit card numbers over the phone. Scammers will pose as customer service agents from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. To be sure, you can hang up and call the institution yourself using the main phone number.

Keeping your cards safe online

You should never provide your credit card information via a link in an email purporting to be from your financial institution or a merchant. Scammers are able to make their fake emails and websites look legitimate, which was exactly the reason I fell victim to this fraud.

But even with my momentary lapse in judgment about being asked for my payment information from my "web host," there were other warning signs that I could’ve heeded if I had been paying attention. 

The first is the actual email address. These fake emails will often have a legitimate looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your email. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual email address that sent you the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same email address format you’ll see from the legitimate company.

In addition to that, looking at the URL that showed up when I clicked the link could’ve told me something weird was going on. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (rather than http://) and feature a lock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, then you should not enter your credit card information. (See also: 3 Ways Millennials Can Avoid Financial Fraud)

Daily practices that keep you safe

In addition to these precautions, you can also protect your credit cards with the everyday choices you make. For instance, using strong, unique passwords for all of your online financial services, from shopping to banking, can help you prevent theft. Keeping those strong passwords safe — that is, not written down on a post-it note on your laptop — will also help protect your financial information.

Regularly going over your credit card and banking statements can also help ensure that you’re the only one making purchases with your credit cards. It was this daily habit of mine that made sure my scammers didn’t actually receive the computer they tried to purchase with my credit card. The fact that I check my balance daily meant I was able to shut down the fraudulent sale before they received the goods, even though I fell down on the job of protecting my credit card information. 

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It’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you're not stuck with the cleanup. Here's how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. | #Creditcard #creditcardtheft #personalfinances


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Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

A woman sits on a gray couch with a laptop on her lap, drinking a cup of coffee

The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Protect Your Identity with ExtraCredit

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.

Sign Up Now

The post Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need appeared first on Credit.com.

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How Is a Fraud Alert Different from a Credit Freeze or Lock?

Hackers steal more than 1 million records globally every hour. And improvements in technology make it easier—not harder—all the time for cyber thieves to access your personal and financial information. While identity theft is a scary thought, you aren’t helpless.

ExtraCredit provides tools to help you not feel helpless. Sign up for dark web monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance for proactive alerts and support if the worst happens.

The three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and Transunion—offer three ways to help you protect yourself from someone opening an account in your name—a fraud alert, credit freeze and a credit lock. Though they sound the same, each one provides a different level of protection and impact and each has different requirements.

What Are Fraud Alerts?

A fraud alert is a basic form of credit protection. It acts as a roadblock that makes it harder for thieves to open an account in your name. If you have a fraud alert in place, a lender or other business isn’t supposed to open an account for you without first taking steps to verify that the account is, in fact, for you and not someone pretending to be you.

Unlike with a credit freeze, your credit file is still accessible to business and lenders. There’s just an added step that must be taken before the lender or another business opens an account in your name.

Because you provide your contact information when you set up the alert, inquiring banks often use your telephone number to contact you if someone, including you, is trying to open a new account in your name. This gives you the opportunity to confirm or deny that you applied for the account.

Three Types of Fraud Alerts

There are three different types of fraud alerts that you can add to your credit reports at the three credit bureaus.

  • An initial fraud alert can be added by anyone at any time and for any reason. You can add it at any one of the three reporting agencies. The bureau you request an alert from has to let the other bureaus know about The other two then have to add an initial fraud alert to your report as well. An initial alert automatically expires after a year.
  • An extended fraud alert requires that you verify that you’re a victim of identity theft or fraud. Verification involves sending an identity theft report with a copy of a police or other law enforcement report. Requesting an extended alert, as with an initial fraud alert, can be done at one of the reporting agencies who then has to alert the other two bureaus on your behalf. An extended fraud alert stays on your report for seven years.
  • An active-duty alert or active-duty fraud alert is used for active military service members. Like an initial fraud alert, it lasts for one year but can be extended if the service member remains deployed. Like the other alerts, opening an active-duty at one bureau requires that reporting agency share it with the other two.

What Is a Credit Freeze and Credit Lock?

While a fraud alert instructs businesses to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, it doesn’t keep them from looking at your credit file. A credit lock or credit freeze, also called a security freeze, does prevent anyone from looking at—or making a hard inquiry on—your credit report.

A lock or freeze prevents a business or lender from even considering you for a loan or account, where an alert lets them see your credit report. With an alert, they can get to the point of wanting to extend you the loan or account, but not actually opening it without first verifying you’re the one who wants the loan or account.

With a freeze or lock in place, the lender can still make a soft inquiry against your credit report. So you can still get pre-approved credit card offers or have a prospective employer check your credit.

Initial fraud alerts and credit freezes are covered by government laws, specifically the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which requires they be free for one year.

Credit locks are not necessarily free or covered by laws. They are credit industry products.

Locks and freezes last until you lift them. Ending a freeze requires a PIN you receive when you place the freeze. Ending a lock can be done simply by asking the company who placed the lock usually online or by phone.

When to Place a Fraud Alert

Requesting a credit card fraud alert is easy and won’t hurt your credit score or affect your reports. It’s okay to request one at any time. Because an alert only lasts a year, you may want to reserve requesting one for when you think you might be in jeopardy, such as:

  • You notice fraudulent activity on any of your accounts.
  • You think you are a victim of fraud.
  • Your information may be at risk in a data breach.
  • Your wallet, credit card, Social Security card, etc. was lost or stolen.
  • You want to take extra precautions against identity theft.

When in doubt, a fraud alert gives you some reassurance. If you’re planning to take out a loan or apply for a credit card soon, an alert gives you some protection without restricting your ability to apply for financing.

If you have a credit freeze or lock in place and you apply for a loan or credit card, you’ll have to at least temporarily lift the freeze or lock and take extra steps. Those steps aren’t cumbersome but will take a small amount of time. If you choose a lock or freeze, simply know that you’ll have to do some work—more than answering a phone call—if you need a new loan or credit card and have one in place.

How to Apply for a Fraud Alert

Experian lets you submit a fraud alert request online. You can enter either your personal information or identifiers from a recent credit report. If you’d prefer not to input your Social Security number, you have the option to upload other documents to verify your identity.

TransUnion lets you request a fraud alert online through TransUnion by creating an account and completing the online form.

Equifax lets you create an account and file for a fraud alert online. With Equifax, you can also mail in an application or set up an alert by phone at 800-525-6285.

What Else Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

A fraud alert, credit freeze or credit lock are just some of the tools you can use to protect yourself from identity theft. Another tool you can use is your credit score. Using a service, such as Credit.com, to monitor your credit score can alert you to any changes in your score which can indicate something—or someone—has abused your credit.

You can sign up for a free Experian VantageScore credit score or a $1 FICO credit score from Credit.com. Your score includes access to a free credit report card—shown below—that tracks the five key areas that go into your score—payment history, debt usage, credit history, account mix and inquiries.  Your score and your report card are updated every two weeks, so you can see any changes and take action if needed, including adding a fraud alert, freeze or lock when needed.

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The post How Is a Fraud Alert Different from a Credit Freeze or Lock? appeared first on Credit.com.

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