BACK

Legal, Regulatory, and Privacy Issues

Protect yourself from credit card ‘spam charges’

Summary

Credit card users need to look out for spam charges — smaller unauthorized transactions which thieves hope to sneak by on credit card bills.

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Realizing that major charges will jump out when cardholders examine their credit card bills, many thieves now count on the fact that lesser amounts (particularly when they appear on lengthy statements) will sneak past the eyes of even watchful consumers. A thief may place these small unauthorized charges, which some people have labeled “spam charges,” on the credit cards of thousands of different people every week.  The thieves hope that consumers will simply write off a transaction for under $15 that they don’t recognize, perhaps assuming it was a purchase made by their spouse or teenager.

Compare Low Interest Credit CardsJohn Brewer, assistant district attorney in the major fraud division of the Harris County (Texas) District Attorney’s office, has prosecuted many criminals for this form of fraud. “We recently investigated an operation where a guy had a connection to American Express in Mexico City, and he stole thousands of people’s credit card numbers every day,” Brewer says. “He’d fax the numbers to his partner in the United States, who opened up several businesses and became registered with American Express. He then made charges to all of these different businesses with the card numbers, but only in very small amounts. Nobody cares about a $9.95 or $12.50 charge, especially if they’re married. But that really adds up for him.”

To prevent such spam charges, consumers should take precautions such as shopping online only at secure websites that begin with “https” rather than “http.”  When using Internet Explorer, users should look for a small yellow lock icon in a shaded bar near the bottom of the screen. By double-clicking on the lock, surfers will bring up the site’s security certificate, which they should look at to see if it is still current and if the name on the certificate matches the name of the merchant.

Some experts recommend using only one credit card for online shopping.  By using just one card for Internet purchases, consumers will easily be able to keep track of spending and notice any unusual transactions. When shopping for a credit card for online use, consider the range of options available at CreditCards.com, such as low interest, reward and cash back credit cards.

It is important to be wary when using your credit card offline, as well, to guard against common fraud and its more damaging cousin, identity theft. “Nearly 88 percent of known-cause identity theft incidents occur offline \u2014 not via the Internet,” says Brad Stroh, Co-CEO of Bills.com. “Secure incoming and outgoing mail, particularly that containing credit card numbers. Limit your paper trail and safeguard your Social Security number.” He also suggests shredding old documents with personal information, preapproved applications you receive in the mail, expired cards and ATM and credit card receipts. And remember, when making a purchase with your card in a retail store, don’t let the card out of your sight.

Credit card users who share cards, such as married couples or those with teenagers who use the card, should scrutinize the statement together to ensure that all charges are legitimate. Should an unauthorized charge be discovered, the card issuer should be contacted immediately.  Cardholders are not responsible for unauthorized charges above $50 provided they are promptly brought to the attention of the credit card company.

While it may not be clear how thieves gained access to credit card information, it does not mean consumers should stop using their plastic when buying items online.  Credit cards are often a better choice for Web purchases than other payment methods since they provide legal rights, including the ability to dispute payments.  Certain credit cards also offer protection such as insurance or extended warranties.

What’s up next?

In Legal, Regulatory, and Privacy Issues

Fed hikes interest rates for 16th time

The Federal Reserve has announced another interest hike while fighting inflation (May 2006).

Published: May 20, 2006

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report Updated: March 26th, 2019
Business
15.24%
Airline
17.50%
Reward
17.55%
Cash Back
17.58%
Student
17.79%

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.