Published in: Credit Cards | July 22, 2019

How to Protect Your Credit Cards From Pickpockets and Fraudsters

By:  Lyle Daly

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Plenty of crooks would love to get a hold of your credit card info. Here’s how to foil their plans.


Credit card thief stealing woman's credit card

Image source: Getty Images

Are you worried about credit card fraud? Have you been a victim of it in the past?

You’re not alone. It’s the most prevalent type of identity theft. Criminals are always coming up with new ways to steal your credit card, whether by picking your pocket or getting your card information online.

Most popular credit cards have zero-liability policies for fraud, but it’s still a huge inconvenience. You need to get the card replaced, which means waiting for the replacement in the mail. Then you have to update your payment information wherever you have the card saved.

You can’t completely eliminate your risk of credit card fraud. But you can drastically reduce it by taking a few smart steps to protect yourself.

How to keep pickpockets away from your wallet

Pickpockets are a danger anytime you’re traveling internationally. And although they’re less common in the United States, that doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent.

Many of these pickpockets are very good at what they do. They’re professional thieves. Fortunately, a few simple steps make you a more difficult target:

  • Use a slim wallet: A big, bulky wallet is more noticeable and easier to grab than a slim one.
  • Keep your wallet in your front pocket: It’s harder for a pickpocket to grab something in your front pocket than your rear pocket. Especially without you noticing.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings: Pickpockets look for obvious targets, like people who seem lost or stare at their phone as they walk down the street. When you practice situational awareness, they’re less likely to target you. You’ll have a better chance of spotting them if they do, too.

If you’re going to an area where theft is common, consider additional protection. Here are ways you can secure yourself even more:

  • Wear a money belt: Since these are usually worn under your pants or shirt, they’re about as safe as it gets. They’re also somewhat inconvenient, so you’ll need to balance your priorities.
  • Use a neck stash: You wear these like a necklace and put them under your shirt.
  • Wear clothing with zippered pockets: It’s much tougher for a pickpocket to open these without your knowledge.

Any of these methods are a good choice if they give you peace of mind. But I wouldn’t say they’re necessary.

I was a bit paranoid after reading about pickpockets before I went to Europe, but I found that keeping a slim wallet in my front pocket was sufficient. Just put your hands in your pockets when going through crowds to keep your phone and wallet safe.

Protecting your credit card information from cyber fraud

While someone could physically steal your credit card, they’re more likely to steal your card information. Here are the typical methods criminals use:

Skimming

A skimmer is a device attached to a payment terminal or ATM that steals the information of any cards that are inserted. Thieves usually install skimmers in isolated payment terminals like those at gas pumps. They’re harder to detect in these places.

You can often spot skimmers by inspecting the card reader for inconsistencies or signs of tampering. But skimmers can be very difficult to spot. The most effective way to avoid them is to opt for payment terminals and ATMs that are inside a place of business.

Phishing

There’s a rapidly growing impostor scam where someone pretends to be a company you’re familiar with. They call or email and try to convince you to give them sensitive information. For example, they could call you claiming to be your credit card’s fraud department and ask you to verify your card number. This is an example of phishing.

If you ever get a phone call from a company asking for your personal information, call the company back at its official number.

Another example of a phishing attempt is an email with a link to a forged website. It might look like a site you use, like an online store. This site will prompt you to enter your information so the criminal can steal it. To avoid this, manually enter the URL of websites you want to visit instead of trusting links in emails.

Malware and spyware

If a piece of malware or spyware gets installed on your computer, it can monitor what you do and steal your information. Popular installation methods include websites that prompt you to download a file or emails with the program attached.

Before you download anything, verify that the publisher is a legitimate company. You might run a search for the program to see what other people say about it.

Your last line of defense: account alerts

One final step you should take in case anyone does get your credit card information is to set up account alerts. You can do this over the phone or online. Account alert options vary a bit depending on the card issuer, but most let you set up notifications for

  • any transactions greater than a specific amount,
  • international transactions, or
  • when your card’s balance exceeds a specific amount.

Credit card companies also have their own methods to spot fraud. They’ll alert you to any suspicious transactions that they notice.

By setting up account alerts, you’re more likely to catch fraud attempts immediately. Otherwise, you may find out days or weeks later when you check your statement. By then, the damage is done.

You can receive account alerts by text message or email. Text message alerts are a good choice, as you’ll see them right away. Whichever method you choose, keep your contact information up to date with the card issuer.

Keep your credit cards safe

Credit card fraud is a hassle. Take these measures to minimize the chance that it happens to you.

If you do become a victim of fraud, tell your card issuer as soon as possible. They can get you a new card and begin the process of reversing fraudulent charges.

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