Being prepared is not only good advice to give to a Boy Scout, but it’s an important component in all aspects of life – education, home ownership, retirement, etc. You would never go on a camping trip without preparing for emergencies; likewise, when it comes to your personal finances you should never take security for granted. In particular, consumers have a great deal of responsibility when it comes to their credit cards. Thieves have creative ways to access personal information and credit card fraud is a common (and painful) outcome.
Dealing With Credit Card Threats
An easy strategy to begin securing your credit cards is to keep detailed records of all your account numbers and contact information. If it becomes necessary to contact the issuer, having that data readily available with expedite the resolution of any problems. Many issues can be resolved with a simple phone call, but other threats may require more action on your behalf. Keep an eye out for:
- Unauthorized charges on your monthly statement
- A lost or stolen credit card
- Denied purchases (for no discernible reason)
- Errors on your monthly statement
- Discrepancies on a credit report
Situations like these may simply be errors, but if they’re not, there’s a high probability that your account has been hacked or you’re the victim of identity theft. Contact the appropriate institutions as soon as you become aware of a potential threat; they will begin an investigation immediately, place a hold on your account and report back to you about their findings.
Deterring a Thief
The first step in protecting yourself against credit card fraud is being aware of potential vulnerabilities and having a plan of action. All a thief needs is your account number to make a fake credit card. If they gain access to a social security number, password and/or security code associated with the credit card account, they can do a tremendous amount of damage, racking up credit card debt, opening additional accounts, etc. – a horror story that can take months to clear up.
Don’t wait for your accounts to be hacked to do damage control. It’s a long and frustrating process closing old accounts, waiting for new cards to be issued and trying to clear up your good name. Begin today by making it difficult for crooks to access your information with the following tips :
- Be diligent to protect account details, i.e. account number, password, security code, etc.
- Before disposing of any documents, shred all monthly statements, carbons, receipts, etc. associated with your credit card account.
- Never allow a clerk to take your credit card out of sight.
- When using your card, shield your credit card number so that others can’t copy it or capture it on a cell phone or camera.
- Never write you account number on a check or envelope.
- Memorize your PIN number and never store it with your credit card.
- Don’t allow your computer, browser or phone app to store account details.
- Watch for suspicious charges on your accounts.
- Review your credit report for inaccuracies.
Actions You Can Take
If, even after all your vigilance, you find that you’ve been targeted by a hacker, take quick action by reporting to your credit card issuer immediately. Your issuer will close your account and reissue a new card with a different account number. You have the right to dispute credit card billing errors, but you have to do it within 60 days and it must be in writing. Luckily, you can only be held liable for up to $50 in unauthorized purchases made to your account after it’s lost or stolen.
Credit bureaus maintain your credit report, but you also have the right to dispute credit report errors directly with your credit card issuer. When a dispute with the credit bureau is unsuccessful, you can go straight to the source and handle the issue with the credit card issuer who reported the error. If all else fails, you can send your complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
* Many of these issues can be avoided entirely with identity theft protection services.