Published in: Credit Cards | Dec. 18, 2019

Credit Card Fraud Has Tripled. Don't Let It Happen to You

By:  Kailey Hagen

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Try these smart moves to keep identity thieves away.

As a society, we love our credit cards. They let us pay for large purchases over time (albeit at a high cost) and they give us rewards for buying things we were going to buy anyway. Unfortunately, identity thieves love credit cards too, but for different reasons. They're a great tool for spending large amounts of money in relative anonymity, without assuming any responsibility for the bill.

Instances of credit card fraud have nearly tripled since 2014 according to The Ascent's research into identity theft and credit card fraud. While the increase in credit card fraud has slowed in recent years in part due to the adoption of EMV chip cards, it is still an issue that affects many consumers. Your card issuer might not hold you responsible for these fraudulent purchases if you report the situation right away, but it's still a hassle for you. The following three strategies can help reduce your likelihood of becoming a victim of credit card identity fraud.

A person walking away from the wallet they dropped on the ground and a thief's hand hovering over it.

Image source: Getty Images

1. Don't leave your credit card information lying around

Credit card fraud isn't always committed by online hackers. Sometimes it's as simple as someone copying down the number from a credit card that's left lying about or slipping the card into their pocket. You can prevent this by knowing where your credit cards are at all times and not leaving your wallet where others can access it. 

You also need to be careful about credit card statements and other documents that might have your card information on them. Always store these documents somewhere safe where visitors won't see them or shred them if you're going to get rid of them.

2. Only shop on secure websites

Secure websites encrypt any information you submit to prevent hackers from gaining access to your financial information. Unsecured websites do not, so they're easy targets. You can tell which is which by looking for "https" at the start of the website's URL. This indicates a secure website. Avoid shopping on sites that begin with just "http" as this indicates your information will not be encrypted.

You must also use strong passwords on online shopping and banking accounts so that hackers are not able to break into your account and pass themselves off as you. A strong password includes a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. You should also vary your passwords so you're not using the same password on every site.

3. Watch out for scams and card skimmers

Scammers have many ways to get your financial information. They might call you and claim that you won a prize. Or they might try to trick you by saying that they're with a legitimate business that you owe money to. They might also send fake emails that appear to come from a real company but actually send responses directly to the hacker.

If you're ever concerned about the legitimacy of a person or company that contacts you, don't give out any information. Don't click on links in emails. Instead, check out the company website by typing it directly into your browser. If you receive a suspicious call, try to get the person's name and phone number. You can always reach out to the company directly to verify any information you received. 

When you visit ATMs or gas stations, check the card reader for signs of a credit card skimmer. These are subtle, but can include loose parts or parts that appear to stick out from the unit further than seems natural. If you're concerned that a card reader may have a skimmer, notify the owner of the gas station or ATM and visit another one.

What to do if you believe your credit card has been stolen

Unfamiliar charges on your credit card statement or declined purchases when you know you're under your credit limit are clues that you might be a victim of identity theft. Make a note of any purchases you don't recognize and contact your credit card issuer immediately. Most card issuers won't hold you responsible for any of the identity thief's purchases as long as you report the issue in a timely fashion.

The card issuer may want to go through the charges on your previous statement with you to identify which are your legitimate purchases and which belong to the identity thief. They will then cancel your credit card and issue you a new one with a new number.

You'll have to use a different credit card or cash until your new card arrives. Then, once you activate your new card, you must remember to change your card number on every site where you've stored your card details so your new purchases don't get declined.

Credit card fraud is never going away, much as we would like it to. So you must stay vigilant, guard your credit cards, and only give out personal information to companies you trust. You can never guarantee an identity thief won't get hold of your information, but they tend to go for easy targets first, so if you make it difficult for them, you're less likely to become another victim.

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