The 7 Golden Rules of Preventing Credit Card Fraud
Credit cards simplify our lives by providing a convenient, safe, and virtually universal method of payment. They’ve changed the way the world wields its money for the better, but at the same time, if you’ve ever had one of your credit cards stolen or compromised, then you know how much havoc a card can wreak in the wrong hands. To suddenly learn that a stranger has taken your card on a world tour shopping binge—with your credit and account on the hook—is enough to alter anyone’s perception of their plastic.
No matter how well you safeguard your cards you can still be vulnerable to new credit card scams. But there are several simple precautions you can take to ensure you’re among those that fraudsters are least likely to reach. With no further adieu, here are the essential rules to follow when protecting yourself and your cards from data thieves.
1. Don’t Phall for Phishing
A rep claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency calls you because of some alleged issue with your tax refund. They just need to confirm some of your personal information, and, “Oh, we’ll need to bill your credit card $10 for the [insert phony fee here].” The fact that the CRA will never bill your credit card directly should be the giveaway here, but con artists can be very convincing. They’ll typically gain a victim’s trust by using familiar logos and company names, even when these companies would have zero reason to contact a customer by phone.
There is a very simple way to avoid being victimized by phishing attempts: don’t give out your personal information over the phone unless you’re the one who has placed the call.
2. Dial (and Type) Carefully
Even if you’re the one who initiates a call to a financial institution, be wary. A popular racket among thieves is to buy a toll-free number that is visually very similar to a popular bank or credit card company’s number. If you think you’re calling up Mastercard, but accidentally dialed an 800 number instead of their 877 number, you may find yourself talking to a “Mastercard agent” who will deflect your issue and offer a free cruise in exchange for volunteering answers to a few short questions.
Except for the non-existence of any cruise, and the following charge that you’ll come across on your monthly statement, “free” is just about right. It’s a free headache for the next month. And as important as scrutiny over phone numbers is to be vigilant before entering your credit card data online. Check the address bar to confirm it truly is, say, Amazon.ca’s page you linked to and not some seemingly identical yet fraudulent site.
3. Mind the Machine
Those trafficking in stolen credit cards are known to attach hidden ‘skimming’ devices to typically unattended payment terminals, like those you’ll find at most gas station pay-at-the-pump terminals and street-side ATMs. In Canada, all credit and bank cards now incorporate EMV chip technology, which greatly reduces the ability of skimming machines to steal your information. Nevertheless, always be on the lookout for anything unusual about an ATM’s card slot or keypad, and if you come across anything suspicious or out-of-place, don’t insert your card and immediately alert an employee to your discovery.
4. Guard Thy Pin
Never disclose your PIN number to anyone or let others use your card. Memorize it, and certainly don’t write it down to keep as a reminder in your wallet. It also helps to think like a criminal, and to make sure the PIN code isn’t an obvious number relevant to you that somebody could easily guess. No birthdates, addresses, telephone numbers, or other low-effort combinations. Choose something totally random and change it regularly. Plus, always try and shield the view of your PIN whenever entering it into a keypad.
5. Public Wi-Fi = Criminal Playground
The marvels of smartphone technology make it easy (and fun) to browse through mobile eCommerce catalogs, enter your credit details, and complete purchases on-the-go. Be careful when conducting mobile transactions while using public Wi-Fi, however, because these accessible networks are often insufficiently secured. Scammers can insert themselves into public Wi-Fi in many ways, but there are an equal number of methods to protect yourself.
Verify the name of the network always, and check to see that any website you’re buying on has an SSL certificate (HTTPS in the URL). A virtual private network (VPN) is always a smart addition as well, but ultimately, anyone can dodge public network exploiters by simply using their cell data with the Wi-Fi turned off.
6. Swiping Is So 10 Years Ago
Because the phasing-out of magnetic swipe readers for chips isn’t consistent everywhere in the world, many Point-of-Sale machines still support the swiping crowd. Canadian issuers have moved to the superior EMV chip system, and if it’s available, this is the preferred way to pay with your card at any global checkout. Inserting your card chip-side first into the reader rather than swiping with the magnetic stripe ensures that you’re taking advantage of the extra protection that chip technology provides. Chips are more difficult to clone and rely on encryption to protect payments more thoroughly.
7. Review Activity
Card issuers and credit bureaus these days have an interest in giving consumers the ability to keep a close eye on their credit activity. Most of them now offer applications and free services that give an in-depth look into past transactions, and if you regularly check these resources then you’ll know about fraudulent charges soon after they appear. With better response time comes a better resolution, giving cardholders little excuse not to be vigilant when it comes to their credit activity reports.
Credit Self-Defense Is Crucial
Invasion of privacy aside, it can be a real headache cleaning up the mess that credit card fraud leaves in its wake. At best, you need to immediately report the breach to your card’s provider; cancel your card; wait another two weeks or so for another one to arrive in the mail; then go about revising all the autopay accounts you have linked to the stolen credit card. If your wallet was lost or stolen and you’ve had a few different credit cards compromised, you’ll need to go through the ordeal for every card that’s missing. It’s a time-consuming nuisance, but one that is unlikely to happen to you, should you take the above advice to heart.