Credit Card Fraud

If someone gets hold of your credit card or debit card information, it can cause huge headaches. But there are simple steps you can take to guard your card information so you don’t become a victim of credit card or debit card fraud. 

Card Theft is Not the Same Identity Theft

The first thing to know is that credit card and debit card fraud are not the same as identity theft, though they are linked. According to the nonprofit group 

Credit card fraud and ID theft are often used interchangeably. Credit card fraud is in fact a kind of identity theft. Someone must pose as you to use your credit card fraudulently. But while this kind of crime is technically ID theft, the steps to recover are different.

With credit card fraud, the thief typically doesn’t have any of your personal info - no Social Security Number, no date of birth, etc. They have one piece of information – your credit card number.

How Scammers Acquire Your Information

There are many ways for scammers to get and illegally use credit card information: 

  • Someone could go through your mailbox or trash looking for billing statements
  • Someone doesn’t need your physical card; they might have your credit card number and name and purchase things online
  • Someone fraudulently applies for a card using your personal information
  • Someone makes a counterfeit card with your information by obtaining your info through a skimming device
  • Someone steals your card if, say, you place it on a counter and look away for a moment
  • Someone uses your information such as address to call your issuer and pretend they’re you, then tell the issuer you lost your card and tell the issuer to send you a new card
  • An unscrupulous person working a cash register takes your number down
  • You lost it and someone finds it and decides to keep it (always report a lost card to the issuer)

Tips to Prevent Card Theft

The following tips from the Federal Trade Commission might seem obvious but people often don’t take these common-sense steps to guard their credit card information:

  • Be aware of skimmers – devices illegally installed on machines such as gas pumps and ATMs. Skimmers capture your card information. Before inserting your card, check to ensure the machine has not been tampered with by looking for machine “add-ons” or parts that look like they don’t belong. 
  • Carry your cards separately from your wallet. It can minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet or purse. Carry only the card you need for that outing. 
  • Don’t conduct card business where there is public WiFi such as libraries. 
  • Don’t leave your card just lying around in the open. 
  • Never give your account number to anyone over the phone unless you know the company is reputable. 
  • Never lend your card to anyone, not even your closest friend or relatives. 
  • Never sign a blank receipt and save your receipts to compare with your monthly statement. 
  • Opt in for fraud alerts from your card issuer (most are free). They can arrive via text, email or push notification.
  • When typing in your PIN number, cover your card with your hand; you never know who is watching – in person or by camera. These days, many convenience stores and the like have covers over where you type in your PIN number. 
  • Write down your account numbers and when the accounts expire, and always check your monthly statements to ensure there are no charges on there that you haven’t made.

Reporting Fraud

If you take all of these measures and you discover someone still has found a way to use your credit card, notify the issuer immediately. Keep the issuer’s emergency phone number close at all times. Also, file a report with the police agency where the fraud occurred and notify one of the three federally-authorized credit reporting firms (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax). 

When you report fraud, the issuer will suspend the account while it investigates. To help with that, provide all the information you can about the fraud: Location of where the card was used, what was purchased, what date, how much the charge was for. 

There are federal limits for how much you can be billed for unauthorized charges; go to the Federal Trade Commissions website for details. Your issuer will issue you a new card with a new number. When creating a password and PIN, do not use the same ones that were associated with your old card. If a store or website you frequent is hacked for credit card information, request a new card immediately.