Data breaches and credit card fraud are a growing problem for Americans, according to the Federal Trade Commission. During 2016, complaints of database breaches and fraudulent credit card purchases soared by 32%.
Credit card fraud and related scams amount to billions of dollars in losses annually, according to estimates by the Gartner Group. Most of these losses are absorbed by merchants, credit card companies and banks. But it can take months or longer for affected consumers to recover their funds and their credit standing. For home buyers who have worked hard to build good credit for their mortgage approval, credit card fraud can be especially devastating.
Mass database breaches often make the news. However, many consumers are victimized directly through card skimmers that steal data from point-of-sale terminals, like those placed by thieves on gas station pumps and ATM’s.
Then there’s one-on-one thefts that can happen by opportunity. Card information can be stolen with quick cell phone photos taken by a person standing behind you. Or, by an employee at a store or restaurant, who walks out of view with your card in order to process the transaction.
Protect yourself with these fraud prevention tips from the FTC and the Better Business Bureau:
1. Obtain a transaction receipt for every purchase, no matter how small. Some merchants treat receipts as optional; be sure to ask for one!
2. Monitor your account activity online at least twice a week. Compare your receipts to the account record.
3. If you do not recognize a transaction, contact your card provider right away.
4. If you believe your credit or debit card has been skimmed, stolen, lost or compromised in any way, ask the card issuer to freeze that account. Set up a new account and get a new card.
5. Lock away the cards you do not use very often. Only carry the essentials.
6. Whenever possible, be watchful when your card is being handled for processing by a store or restaurant employee. If the card must be processed out-of-sight, be sure to examine both the merchant receipt and customer copy. Make sure they match. Keep your receipt and monitor your card activity.
7. When signing the merchant copy of a transaction slip, do not leave any blank lines. If you are not tipping, strike a line through this area. Do not fill in with zero. Always makes sure the transaction total is accurate before signing the slip.