Credit card theft and identity fraud are common occurrences in our digital age, but that does not mean that we cannot protect ourselves and limit the risk. In this article, we will review the most frequent types of credit card and identity theft and fraud, as well as methods of protection, and what you can do if it has already happened to you.
Ways Criminals Steal your Credit Cards and Identity
- Simple theft: If someone steals or finds your wallet, that person can use your ID, forge your signature to make credit card purchases, or use your credit card online in order to purchase items.
- Skimming: A thief can use a device to read the information on your credit card without even touching it. The card could even be in a pocket or purse at the time. This is a problem with “chip and pin” cards, or any card with an RFID chip.
- Data breaches: Even when you use credit cards and personal information in a secure manner, companies can experience data breaches and lose that information to hackers. According to NASDAQ.com (http://www.nasdaq.com/article/credit-card-fraud-and-id-theft-statistics-cm520388), data breaches totaled 1,540 worldwide in 2014. The vast majority of those breaches occurred in North America.
- Online or telephone phishing: A thief posing as a friend, family member, legitimate company or government representative will collect your personal information and/or credit card number in order to use your identity or to make a counterfeit credit card with your account number and information on it.
To learn more about the many types of theft, skimming, and phishing, you can visit the following websites:
- Consumer Action: http://www.consumer-action.org/english/articles/questions_and_answers_about_credit_card_fraud/
- Fairfax County: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/financialcrimes/creditcardfraud.htm
- The United States Department of Justice: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/identity-theft/identity-theft-and-identity-fraud
- Center for Identity Management and Information Management: http://www.utica.edu/academic/institutes/cimip/idcrimes/schemes.cfm
According to the Federal Trade Commission (https://www.ftc.gov/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-january-december-2014), they received 2.58 million complaints in in 2014 alone. Of those, fraud made up 60 percent, with identity theft adding on another 13 percent.
As for credit cards specifically, the Michigan Retailers Association (http://house.michigan.gov/sessiondocs/2015-2016/testimony/Committee333-1-20-2016.pdf) states that 31.8 million US consumers had their credit card breached in 2014.
For more statistics, visit:
- The National Criminal Justice Reference Service: https://www.ncjrs.gov/spotlight/identity_theft/facts.html
- Journalist’s Resource: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/united-states-rates-fraud-identity-theft-federal-trade-commission
- The University of Rochester: http://www.cs.rochester.edu/~kshen/csc296-fall2013/lectures/Mizes_CardFraud.pdf
Tips to Prevent Credit Card Fraud
While it cannot always be avoided, there are things that you can do to significantly reduce your risk of having credit card or other personal information stolen.
- Keep a record of all of your account numbers in case you need to contact companies to report unauthorized use of your information.
- Save receipts in a safe place or destroy them. Do not just throw them out. Someone could collect them from your garbage.
- Do not give out personal information to unsolicited callers, even if they appear to be calling from a legitimate number. Scammers have learned how to spoof telephone numbers that show up on caller ID.
- Keep credit cards with RFID chips in RFID blocking wallets or card sleeves.
- Read your bills as soon as you receive them and check for discrepancies.
- Make sure that credit card companies and banks always have your current address.
- Do not lend out your credit card to anyone.
- Do not sign blank receipts.
- Always keep your identity and credit cards on your person. Do not leave them unattended in a location that is not secure.
- Do not hang purses off the back of a chair while in a restaurant.
- Do not leave a credit card exposed so that people nearby can copy the number and information from it.
- Do not submit your credit card information to sites that are not secure. Secure sites should have a padlock icon showing in the address bar.
- Make purchases from reputable sources.
- Avoid transactions that started with unsolicited emails.
- Keep your antivirus software up to date.
- If a friend asks for help online, call them in person and make sure that it is them and not a scammer who has hijacked their social media or email account.
- Use disposable one-time use virtual credit card numbers if your bank or credit card company offers that service.
- Do not publish your full name, address, and/or birthdate on public websites.
For more information, you can visit the following websites:
- The University of Alabama at Birmingham Police: http://www.uab.edu/police/crime-prevention/safety-tips/239-tips-for-avoiding-credit-card-fraud
- The Michigan State University Extension: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/protect_yourself_from_credit_card_fraud
- The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Education section: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-ways-avoid-fraud
- The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions: http://www.dfi.wa.gov/financial-education/information/protect-yourself-credit-fraud
What to Do If You Are a Victim or Suspect That You Might Be
If you are a victim, do not panic! You are not alone and there are systems in place to help you get back on your financial feet. There are also simple things that you can do to secure your information to prevent future problems.
- Check your receipts and compare them to your current credit card and bank statements.
- Check your credit report. The major credit reporting agencies allow free access to credit reports on a limited basis.
- Make a police report for theft, identity theft, or fraudulent use of credit cards.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (USA.gov explains how at https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft#item-208988).
- Report any lost, stolen, or misused credit cards to your financial institution.
- Contact any companies involved.
- Contact the credit reporting agencies and dispute any discrepancies on your report.
The three primary agencies are:
- Equifax : http://www.equifax.com/
- Experian: http://www.experian.com/
- Trans Union: https://www.transunion.com/
Prevent Further Damage
- Place a security freeze on your credit files with each of the major credit reporting agencies.
- Check your credit report on a regular basis.
- Replace stolen credit cards.
- Speak to the Social Security Administration if your social security number has been used fraudulently: https://faq.ssa.gov/link/portal/34011/34019/Article/3792/What-should-I-do-if-I-think-someone-is-using-my-Social-Security-number
For more on what you can do if a crime has been committed, you can visit any of the following websites:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center: https://www.ic3.gov/crimeschemes.aspx#item-4
- The Oregon Health and Science University: http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/services/public-safety/campus-safety/upload/ID-Theft-Prevention-and-Reporting.pdf
- The University of Hawaii at Manoa: http://manoa.hawaii.edu/dps/idtheft.html
- Consumer Action: http://www.consumer-action.org/downloads/english/Chase_CC_Fraud_Leaders.pdf
Resource Groups and Organizations
A wise consumer is one of the best defenses against credit card fraud and identity theft. Stay informed! Visiting any of the following resources can help to get you started:
- Consumer Reports: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2011/june/money/credit-card-fraud/overview/index.htm
- The Identity Theft Resource Center: http://www.idtheftcenter.org/id-theft/data-breaches.html
- Clearpoint: http://www.clearpoint.org/resource-center/articles-and-tips/credit-reports-and-scores/protect-your-credit-identity-from-theft/