Credit card fraud has been around since the advent of credit cards, but the thieves have advanced with technology. At first, crooks used low-tech maneuvers like robbery, dumpster diving, or mailbox crashing to steal cards, statements, and merchant receipts. Although still popular, these methods are being eclipsed by more sophisticated techniques that range from phone scams and phishing to phony websites and spyware.
Phone scammers use lies to trick victims into disclosing their credit card numbers and other sensitive information. The callers might say they’re asking for charitable donations, selling goods or services, or “updating” your account information.
Phishing is the online equivalent, where scammers send e-mails claiming to be from legitimate sources like Pay-Pal, eBay, banks, or even the IRS. The e-mails usually direct recipients to official looking websites that use various pretexts to elicit credit card information.
Spyware can be installed on your computer when you open an unsolicited e-mail attachment. Although less frequent, skilled hackers can also insert spyware through unpatched weaknesses in Windows or web browsers. The spyware sends the desired data (credit card numbers, etc.) to remote servers whenever the victims enter the information.
Here are steps you can take to guard against fraud.
- Photocopy credit cards and other important documents that you keep in your wallet. Use the copies to notify your bank and credit card companies if your wallet is lost or stolen. Then cancel the cards and put a hold on all charges.
- Always review your bank and credit card statements to make sure the charges are legitimate. Notify issuers immediately of any unauthorized entries. Then consider changing your account number or canceling the card.
- Shred statements or receipts before disposing of them.
- Never give personal information to an unsolicited caller. Scammers can falsify names and numbers that appear on your caller ID. Look up the company’s number to make sure it’s legitimate; then call back if you wish.
- Don’t open e-mail attachments from unknown parties, and don’t respond to unsolicited email requests for personal information.
- Avoid writing down your PIN or passwords, and shield the numbers when using ATMs or similar machines. Even if nobody is nearby, thieves may have affixed hidden cameras.
- Protect your computer with a firewall, anti-virus software, and an anti-spyware program and update them.