It’s a nightmare that happens to so many of us these days. You’re reviewing your credit card statement for your regular Costco trip and find a mysterious $200 charge at a gas station across the country. Cue the screams!!!! You’ve become a victim of credit card fraud. And while it's happening now at alarming rates, there are still things you can do to protect your family.
There are times when being an adult feels a little harder than other days. The day when someone steals your identity and uses it to send themselves on a sunny Caribbean vacation is definitely one of them.
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Sadly, credit card theft is not rare. We hate to say it, but it will probably happen to you at some point in your adult life. And it can kill your credit score if you're not paying attention! So, it’s super important that you know what to do to prevent it and protect yourself when something does happen. Let’s get to it!
WHAT IS CREDIT CARD FRAUD?
While the name kind of speaks for itself, credit card fraud happens when someone uses your account info to make purchases without your permission. It’s just one of the sneaky and underhanded ways that someone can steal your identity for nefarious reasons.
It can be committed by strangers or by someone you know. Sometimes your physical cards could be stolen and fall into the hands of the fraudster, but most of the time it happens digitally without the loss of your card.
COMMON AND SNEAKY WAYS FRAUD OCCURS
In order to stop fraudsters from stealing your info, you must be in the know about common ways that theft happens. Unfortunately, fraudsters don’t usually announce themselves and wear a smarmy disguise to alert you— hey, this is a bad guy!—so you’ll have to be a little smarter and avoid these common pitfalls:
- Trash Bandits – Someone digs through your trash and finds old receipts or statements with your account information.
- Retail Fraud – You go out to eat or shop, and a dishonest employee steals your card information to send themselves on a sweet vacation.
- Fraudulent Websites – You mistakenly visit a website that's meant to trick you and steal your credit card information, and you provide your card number.
- Credit Card “Skimming” – You use a gas pump or ATM where a thief has installed a small device called a skimmer that steals credit card info.
- Data Breaches – A large company's customer database is hacked and customer account information is compromised.
- Physical Theft – A stranger breaks in and steals your credit card… OR more commonly it's taken by a family member or someone you know.
Parents: Watch for those un-approved kid purchases! Technically, this is credit card theft, too. Let’s say your gaming enthusiast son gets a hold of the stored card information on your husband’s Playstation account and uses it to load up on Fortnite skins. By law, this can be considered as fraud and you can prosecute. However, many loving parents choose to protect their kids by eating the cost—and hopefully making them pay it back in another way. Make sure your kids don’t have access to your account information to protect them and yourself!
TIPS FOR PROTECTING YOURSELF AGAINST CREDIT CARD THEFT
Along with keeping your account info away from your kids, there are several other ways that you can safeguard yourself. It’s worth the extra effort and time. We promise!
- Pay Attention – Review your credit card and bank statements weekly.
- Start Shredding – After you review statements, destroy them with a shredder.
- Put Cards Away – None of us NEEDS to carry around 10 cards at a time—except maybe Jay-Z. Leave your stash of cards at home and only take one if you need it.
- Don’t Go Phishing – Avoid sending out card information through email. Fraudsters can parade in your inbox as your bank or utility company and ask for your information. Rather than hitting reply, look up the company’s customer service number online and give them a call.
- Screen Your Calls – Too many people — especially the elderly — fall prey to phone schemes. You should NEVER provide your card information to someone who calls YOU on the phone. Again, find a number for customer service and give them a call.
- Say Sayonara to Paper – Save yourself on paper clutter and potential fraud by opting in for paperless statements wherever they are available. Win-win!
- Get Your Check Up! – Check your credit report once a year and watch for any errors or suspicious reports. You can request a free annual report from all three credit bureaus by checking out AnnualCreditReport.com.
Follow these guidelines, and you will be ahead of the curve to keep fraudsters out of your home and accounts.
DON’T PANIC!! WHAT TO DO IF YOU FALL VICTIM TO CREDIT CARD FRAUD
Oh no! What should you do if there are suspicious charges on your account? You can handle this. First, the good news: You are not responsible for charges that are determined to be fraudulent. Now for the bad news: It’s gonna take time to clean up the mess that’s been made by credit card fraud. Here are a few important steps you will need to take if you fall victim:
- Report Early – If you see suspicious activity when you review your card transactions, contact your card issuer immediately to report it. Card companies can activate safeguards such as freezing the card while they investigate.
- Change Your Card Number – When you notify your card company, they will probably suggest this anyway. If they don’t, then ask your card issuer if they can send you a new card with a different number.
- Change Your Passwords – You may not know what information has been accessed when fraud occurs, so the safest route is to change your passwords for any online accounts.
- Notify the Credit Bureaus – Contact each of the three main bureaus to let them know about the fraud.
- File a Police Report – In order to fully investigate the fraud, you will have to file charges with your local police department.
Pro Tip: You will need to contact any companies where you have auto-payments set up notifying them of your new card number. Unfortunately, those scheduled payments won’t automatically transfer, so you will have to manually change and reschedule them. Remember how we said that cleaning up this credit card mess would take time?
SHOULD YOU GET IDENTITY THEFT INSURANCE?
In our modern age of digital information and online business, a new form of insurance has gained popularity in recent years. It’s called identity theft insurance, and it can help reimburse the costs and time associated with credit card fraud. Policies vary, but many also provide monitoring for your credit reports to watch for future fraud.
There are lots of options available for this type of insurance, so a simple Google search can help you look into it. If you do, there are a few things to look into to inform your choice:
- Check Your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Policy – Since this type of insurance is becoming more common, it’s possible that your current policy already included some coverage for identity theft. It’s worth a check before you pay for additional coverage.
- Add It to Your Home Policy – If your current policy doesn’t include fraud coverage, then contact your insurance company to ask if it is an option that could be added.
- Buy a Stand-Alone Policy – Consider purchasing a stand-alone policy to help you with identity theft. Costs vary, but it will be well worth the cost if you find yourself in need of help.
While credit card theft is scary stuff, and even careful consumers can still fall prey to fraud, just remember…
YOU CAN HANDLE THIS!
All right. Take a deep breath with us. We know that this topic may be a little scary and leave you feeling a bit squeamish. But know it WILL be okay. Adulting sometimes means facing those ugly challenges head-on to protect your family when they occur. We hope that when credit card theft rears its ugly head in your house, you will feel empowered with the tools you need to kick it to the curb!
Leave a comment below to share with us if you’ve ever experienced credit card fraud and your best tips for preventing it.
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