Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud

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As recent statistics show, approximately 1,540 large data breaches were reported in 2014. These breaches represent a 46 percent increase from the year before and led to the compromise of more than 1 billion records.

With those statistics in mind, it's no wonder credit card fraud is at an all-time high. In 2014, approximately 31.8 million consumers had their credit cards breached – that's three times as many as the year before.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for consumers to lessen their chances of having their credit card details stolen. While some tips are plain old common sense, a wave of new technologies can also help prevent fraud. Keep reading to learn about apps and services that can protect your credit, along with steps you can take yourself.

Tips for Fraud Protection

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) notes, credit card fraud can be perpetrated in more than one way. Sometimes it's the act of a dumpster diver. Other times, fraud begins with a high tech hack or a sweeping data breach at a major retailer.

Either way, the steps you can take to protect yourself are mostly the same. In all cases, it's crucial to keep your personal information private and out of the hands of those who would steal your credit card details – or your identity.

The CFPB provides several tips to keep your information safe when you're using your card in person. Those tips include:

  • Don't give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you initiated the call and know you're dealing with a reputable company.
  • Carry your credit cards separately from your wallet. That way, someone who steals your wallet won't get your identification and your cards.
  • Keep your eye on your credit card during transactions. Don't let a waiter or retailer take your card out of your sight.
  • Never sign a blank credit card receipt.
  • Save your receipts and compare them against your statements.
  • Open your bills promptly or check them online regularly. Report fraudulent or worrisome charges to your card issuer right away.
  • Notify your card issuer of address changes or travel plans.
  • Never write your account numbers down where someone might find them.

In summary, you should also act as if everyone is suspect when it comes to your private information including credit card numbers, account numbers, of your social security number. Since scammers and hackers find new ways to trick people into sharing their data all the time, you must remain vigilant. Never volunteer your private information, and do your best to avoid situations where your information could be compromised.

Preventing Identity Theft Online

Of course, you're not always present when a retailer runs your credit card for a purchase. These days, consumers do much of their shopping online and from the comfort of their own homes.

While many of the best practices for avoiding credit card fraud are the same in-person and online, here are some specific tips to protect yourself – and your credit card details – on the web:

  • Demand a new credit or debit card if your account details are ever breached.
  • Check online account activity regularly, and report suspicious movements or any purchases you didn't make.
  • Beware of cleverly-disguised fishing emails that attempt to get you to volunteer your data.
  • Lock down your credit with a security freeze, which may be free for you if you're the victim of identity theft.
  • Change all your online passwords regularly, and use passwords that could never be guessed by an outsider.
  • Go out of your way to make online purchases with secured merchants websites only. Websites secured with an SSL Certificate will have URLs that start with "https" instead of "http."

Using common sense when you shop online is the key. Make sure you're not entering your credit card information without a specific reason, and that you don't share your log-in details with anyone on the web. Also be careful not to log into bank accounts or sensitive websites on public computers. If you're not using a secure web connection, your information can be shared with nearly anyone.

Using Virtual Cards and Other Apps

The complexity of the internet has made way for new technologies that can protect us further. This includes the introduction of virtual cards and virtual card numbers – a move that has led to better protection for purchases made on the web.

Virtual cards and card numbers cloak your real credit card details when you make an online purchase. After a consumer signs up with their card issuer for one of these programs, purchases made with their card will be charged using a randomly-generated account number – not their own. Keep in mind, however, that not all card issuers offer this option. And even if they do, they might not offer it with all their credit card products.

Credit monitoring products like Identity Guard® can also step in to do the heavy lifting when it comes to protecting your credit and your identity. Even credit reporting agency Experian offers its own form of credit monitoring, with daily credit report checks, notifications, and more.

With these credit monitoring services and others, you'll receive credit monitoring alerts and notifications of suspicious activity. They can also prevent individuals from opening new accounts in your name, which is a huge benefit if you're worried about identity theft specifically. While these services aren't free (you will need to pay between $5 and $30 per month), they can provide some much-needed peace of mind.

The Importance of Monitoring Your Credit

No matter how often you use credit, your credit card details are always at risk. To prevent a credit catastrophe, you should check your credit card accounts and credit reports for errors or fraudulent purchases regularly.

LendingTree makes this part easy. With a free account, you can get access to an estimate of your credit score and monitor account balances, new account information, and more. Not only that, but you'll learn how your credit score is calculated, along with tips that can help you boost your score over time.

Lastly, you can get a free copy of your actual credit report once per year through AnnualCreditReport.com. This federally-approved website is simple to use and offers a free copy of your report from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax once per year. Each time you access your credit report, you have the opportunity to search for fraudulent accounts, misreported figures, or errors. Make sure to check your report thoroughly for the best results.

Final Thoughts

As you continue using credit for everyday purchases, it's smart to look for new ways to lessen your chances of becoming a victim of fraud. Don't release your personal details to people you don't know and keep your cards and card numbers locked away when they're not in use.

If you take these steps and others, you'll dramatically reduce your chances of encountering credit card fraud or identity theft. When it comes to credit card fraud, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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