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How to Avoid Credit Card Fraud

By Jill Terry

Though there's no foolproof way to stop this or any other kind of crime, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming a target for credit card fraud.

Technology has expanded the possibilities of credit card fraud, making the old rules about ripping up receipt carbons seem not only quaint, but downright outdated.

Here are 15 rules you should follow to reduce your risk of credit card fraud:

When You Use a Physical Card:

  1. Never sign a blank charge slip.
    It's the equivalent of signing a blank check. You may think that by entering the tip amount in a restaurant, the cashier will add up the tip and cost of the meal. It should happen but sometimes doesn't. Play it safe--make the total amount clear, and don't trust anyone else to do it for you.

  2. Don't sign your cards.
    Next time you receive a new credit card, after signing the back of it, write "see photo ID" also on the signature line. Credit card companies ask you to sign it so that merchants can compare the signature on the card to the signature on the receipt. "See photo ID" is an additional way for a merchant to confirm that you are who your card says you are.

  3. Never write your ATM PIN number on the back of your card.
    If the card is stolen, the thief now has instant access to use your card at the nearest ATM.

  4. Keep as few cards in your possession as possible.
    Do you need to carry more than one or two credit cards? Probably not. Carry as few cards as possible to reduce your overall risk in the event that your purse or wallet is stolen. Moreover, in the event that you become the victim of identity fraud, you have less to fix if you have limited credit.

  5. Don't carry your life history with you.
    Unless you're headed to City Hall for a marriage license, you don't need to keep your social security card, birth certificate, passport, or other official documents with you. If they're stolen, you've just made it much easier for the thief to commit identity fraud.

When You Charge by Mail, Phone, or on the Internet:

  1. Never use a Web site that doesn't use SSL (secure socket layer) technology to conduct credit card transactions.
    SSL assures you that confidential information like names and credit card numbers are transmitted in an encrypted manner so they can't be read as they travel across communication lines. Look for names like VeriSign or Thawte--common security providers--indicating that encryption technology is in use. If you are unsure as to a site's security, look to your browser. Most browsers alert users when a page is a "secure" page. Major retailers use such technology, but be careful when you do business with smaller vendors who may not be able to afford the technology.

  2. Don't disclose your credit card number to anyone who phones you.
    There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, Macy's shouldn't be calling to confirm that their records of your account number are correct. Nor is a trip to the Bahamas yours just for giving a stranger on the phone your name, address, and credit card number.

  3. Don't write your credit card number on the outside of an envelope.
    It's a mystery why certain banks and credit card companies ask you to record this information on the outside of a payment envelope that traverses the U.S. mail system. Would you parade your social security number before a bunch of strangers? Of course not, yet that's the equivalent of what credit card companies are expecting you to do when they provide a line on an envelope that begins with "account number."

  4. Deposit your mail in an official mailbox.
    Many people leave their bill payments in their personal mailboxes, relying on their mail carriers to pick them up and forward them to their destinations. Scores of credit card fraud cases start just this way. Mail thieves raid entire neighborhoods, combing mailboxes for payment envelopes. They steal the envelopes, thereby obtaining access not only to your credit account numbers, but also your checking account number and your signature.

  5. Place your catalog orders on a landline phone.
    Cellular and cordless phones don't provide the privacy you need--it's too easy to tap into conversations that use air signals. Don't disclose anything over a cordless phone you wouldn't want the world to know.

Additional Precautions:

  1. Shred pre-approved credit card offers and credit card receipts.
    Anything that has your name and a credit card number (or the promise of one) on it can become the basis for credit card fraud. Do yourself a favor and destroy the evidence.

  2. Check the accuracy of your credit card statements as soon as you get them.
    Immediately report anything that doesn't look right. Question every charge that you either don't recall making or don't have a receipt to support.

  3. Keep a list of all your credit card numbers and their expiration dates.
    In case your cards are lost or stolen, you'll be able to report it faster and more efficiently if you have this information readily available to give to police and credit card companies.

  4. Call your creditors immediately if a billing statement is late.
    Late statements often indicate that someone has taken "ownership" of your account and diverted your statements to a new address.

  5. Check your credit report annually.
    If the report lists accounts you don't recognize or more credit than you thought you had, you may be a victim of credit card or identity fraud. Stay on top of your credit situation by reviewing your credit report at least once a year, preferably before you apply for credit.

If your credit or charge cards get lost or stolen, immediately call the issuer(s). Many companies have toll free numbers and round-the-clock service to respond to such emergencies. By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges. In any event, your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card.

 

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