How to report and protect yourself from credit card fraud and identity theft
A credit card offers great convenience; however if your personal or account information is lost or stolen, it can also be a source of endless aggravation. PrivacyWise™ is a reference guide that helps you:
- Reduce the risk of having your credit card account or your identity stolen
- Quickly respond if you've been a victim
What to do if you've been a victim of credit card fraud
If you have been a victim of account take-over and see suspicious activity or unrecognized charges on your statement, contact your card issuer. The toll-free number of your card issuer can also be found at the back of your credit card.
Most card issuers contact the merchant on your behalf and reverse the charge(s), pending investigation. They may ask you to submit an affidavit of fraud. Under guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission and network agreements, you are not liable for charges you did not authorize.
If you are a victim of identity theft, follow the steps below.
Contact credit bureaus
Place a "fraud alert" on your credit reports by calling one of the three national credit bureaus. Fraud alerts can stop a thief from opening additional accounts in your name, and also contact you before any new account is opened or an existing account is changed.
Note that one call to any of the three credit bureaus will be enough to place your fraud alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two. Within twenty-four hours, all three of the bureaus will be alerted.
File a police report
You should file a report with your local police station. Keep a copy of the report for proof of the crime. It can help you deal with creditors and file Identity Theft Reports.
Contact your card issuer
Contact the fraud department of each card issuer and alert them of your identity theft. It is important to also notify credit card companies and banks in writing
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC handles complaints from victims of identity theft, provides information to those victims, and refers complaints to major credit reporting and law enforcement agencies. The FTC can also refer your complaint to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces. To file a complaint, fill out FTC's online complaint form.
How to protect yourself from credit card fraud and identity theft
It is important to understand the distinction between unauthorized use of your account (account takeover) and identity theft. Account takeover occurs when there are unauthorized charges on an account that you opened. Identity theft occurs when an account is opened under your name, without your authorization.
Protecting your account
- Online: When applying for a new card or using it
- Security - Always check for the browser's "lock" icon, but understand that this only signifies a secure communication channel, not necessarily the legitimate website of your card issuer.
- Anti-virus and spyware protection software
- Maintain active, up-to-date anti-virus and spyware protection software. Take the time to learn how to use these tools. Most can be set to automatically update and run at least once a week.
- Keep your operating system and browser updated with the latest security patches.
- Never share with anyone the information used to authenticate your online banking and credit card account(s).
- Keep your password safe - Avoid writing your password information down where others might find it, or in a file on your computer.
- Use a strong password - at least eight characters, with a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters and other special characters.
- Do not use the same password for financial websites that you use for other online accounts.
- Change your password periodically.
- Review your account activity periodically - Check your credit card account statements monthly for unauthorized activity. If you see activity that does not look familiar, notify your credit card issuer immediately.
- Accessing your online credit card account - Access your credit card issuer's website by typing the URL in your browser address bar, rather than clicking links you might see in an email.
- Offline: When using your card
- Signature Panel - Always sign the back of your credit card instead of writing 'Check ID' or 'SEE ID'. Your signature signifies that you have accepted the terms of your credit card, without which your card may not be accepted by merchants.
- Credit card information over the phone - It is not advisable to provide your credit card information over the phone, unless you have initiated the call and trust the party or retailer. It is also safer to use corded land line phones rather than cordless or cell phones, as these transmissions can potentially be intercepted.
- Review before signing - Always add up your charge slip before signing it. Draw lines through blank areas. Never sign a blank charge slip.
- Save receipts - Receipts are proof of your purchases and transactions. They are invaluable in the event of a dispute. Don't throw away your debit or credit card receipts.
- Shred, shred, shred - When you've reconciled your monthly billing statement, shred your receipts to prevent thieves from rifling through your trash to obtain your account information.
Protecting your identity
- Check your credit report regularly - In many cases, the first indication that your identity has been stolen is when a new account you did not authorize, appears on your credit report. That's why its important that you regularly review your credit report. By law, you are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report annually. To request yours, visit annualcreditreport.com.
- Be alert for phishing attacks or spoof sites - Credit card issuers will never ask you to provide sensitive personal information, including account numbers or passwords, in an email. If you receive an email that requests this information or that directs you to a website that you suspect may not be authentic, do not respond! Additional information on phishing can be found at the Anti-phishing Working Group. For a list of current phishing reports, visit Millersmiles.
- More tips - The Federal Trade Commission offers comprehensive tips on protecting yourself at the FTC's identity theft website.
Other Security Tips
- Guard your PIN number and password
- Shred any documents that contain identifying information before disposing of them.
- Ask your bank and credit card companies not to send you unsolicited credit card applications in the mail.
- Opt out of receiving pre-screened credit solicitations from the major bureaus by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
- You may also fill out the form at https://www.optoutprescreen.com in order to opt out of receiving credit card offers in the mail.
- You may also opt out of receiving credit card offers in the mail by writing to the four major credit bureaus individually to request that your name not be included on their pre-screened lists. Send a letter indicating your intention to opt out, including your phone number, name, mailing address, ZIP code and Social Security Number to each bureau. If you have moved in the last six months, include your old address as well.
Related privacy and identity theft articles
The following privacy and identity theft articles can keep you up-to-date on the latest credit card fraud techniques and credit card scams.
- Limiting your financial loss
- Beware of mail theft at tax time
- Credit card cancellation how to
- Credit card dangers may lurk on smaller Web sites
- Credit card phishing – what it means and how to avoid it
- Skimming 101 -how to spot it, avoid it, deal with it
- What to do when credit cards are lost or stolen
- Know the latest credit card fraud techniques
- Credit card users can help prevent identity theft
- Online shopping options offer credit card safety
- 4 ways to safeguard personal information online
Download the following checklists to help you protect your personal information and reduce your risk of being a victim of cyber theft.
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