Credit Card Fraud: 7 Strategies to Safeguard Your Credit Cards

credit card fraudThieves are more eager than ever to help themselves to what belongs to you, including your credit cards. Having your credit card stolen can  cost you a great deal of time and money, not to mention the hassle of canceling current cards and acquiring new ones. The following 7 strategies can make your a less tempting target and help you avoid credit card fraud.

1. Know your data beforehand.

For each credit card, note the number of the card, the name on the card, the expiration date, and emergency phone numbers from the back of the card.  Do not, however, write down your security codes or passwords (or if you must, do not keep them in the same place as your other data). Keep your information in a secure location that others cannot easily find, but make sure that you can access it readily when the time comes.

2. Be stingy with your credit card data.

Do not leave your cards in places where others, such as guests or coworkers, can find them. Be especially careful on the phone. If an organization calls you, do not give your data unless you have every reason to trust the call. In general, only use your credit card on the phone when YOU place the phone call.

Be just as careful with websites; unless you can tell that it is secure, it may be better to use PayPal for these payments. If you must hand over your credit card in a store or restaurant, you should watch as the transaction occurs to make sure nothing funny happens. Credit card fraud most often happens when we carelessly share our information.

3. Take extra care while traveling.

When traveling and paying with a credit card, don’t mention that you’re from out of town, as thieves are more tempted to steal from someone who is leaving the area.  Of course, sometimes the fact that you’re from somewhere else is obvious, as when you speak with an accent.  In these situations be especially prudent.

If you’re journeying to an area you don’t usually visit, contact your credit card company and tell them beforehand. That will help you pay for those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which is why you have the credit card.

4. Watch out for skimmers.

Skimming is possible wherever there’s technology that records your credit card information as you use it. Most often found at ATMs and gas pumps, these devices also are used in some restaurants. Before using an ATM or gas pump, check to see if they show signs of tampering. If a contraption seems loose, assume there’s a problem and move on.  Even if you think everything is OK, use one hand to shield your PIN entry, because skimming also occurs with cameras trained on the device to record all your data as you use the card.

Of course, many establishments have security cameras, but they should be positioned to observe the people and not the data entry. Also, you are less likely to be skimmed if you use ATMs inside your bank or if you use the gas pumps closest to the door.

5. Use notification services for your credit cards.

Be proactive in protecting yourself against credit card fraud by using a credit monitoring service. Instead of waiting for the once-a-month statement, sign up for instant notification of transactions, and if you see something wrong, contact the credit card company at once.

You can also create notifications to let you know if your credit card bill is due, thus avoiding late fees. Another possible notification warns you if the total amount owed is near the limit so that you stop making additional charges on that card.  In some cases, you can even find out if your card leaves a given region of the country or is no longer near your phone.

6. Manage your number of credit cards.

The ideal number of credit cards is up to you and should reflect your income, your goals, and your lifestyle.  If you travel a lot, you may need more cards than someone using cards for only a few local purchases.  Most people want at least two, so they’ll have a backup if one card is compromised.  Monitoring only one or two credit cards is much easier than tracking 30. You’ll be less likely to have other problems, such as forgetting to make a payment on a card or racking up piles of debt.

Review all your credit cards at least once per year, and decide if you wish to terminate any.  If you see that you’ll want to cancel a credit card in a few months, schedule this beforehand or find a way to remind yourself when the time comes, such as entering “Cancel Credit Card X” in your calendar.

7. Sometimes use cash.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid credit card fraud is to use cash instead. Credit cards are useful because you can reverse transactions, as is sometimes necessary.  You can’t undo transactions you make using debit cards or real physical money.  On the other hand, sometimes a transaction is not in doubt, such when you’re paying for a meal at a restaurant.  Just don’t flash your cash; you don’t want to tempt muggers.

Avoiding Credit Card Fraud Takes Constant Vigilance

Remember, credit cards are evolving. Credit card companies are creative, but so are thieves. The safeguards that are state of the art this year may be obsolete in the next. Stay abreast of this issue so that your credit card remains an asset instead of a liability. ♦