There are a total of about 610 million credit cards held today by U.S. consumers. That amounts to 3.5 per cardholder. The number continues to grow, and unfortunately so has the number of credit card fraud cases. In the past five years, one out of four Americans was a victim of identity theft, making it America’s fastest growing crime. In the past year, fraud has risen 12 percent to affect 11.1 million adults. Being a victim of credit fraud and identity theft can be quite costly. Total personal losses are close to $50 billion yearly, not including the time to clean up the mess!
Here are some steps to take:
1) Keep your credit card information safe and don’t share it with others. Credit card theft is one of the top reasons for fraud. Keep them safe so it can’t be stolen easily. Memorize your pin and security code so it is not easily accessible. Go paperless if you can and shred information that you will not use. Thieves go dumpster diving to find information to steal and use.
2) Shop by phone or online carefully. Never give your credit card information over the phone or online unless you are dealing with a reputable company. When making purchases online, verify that the website is protected by locating the lock symbol on the status bar.
3) Review your credit card accounts regularly. Being proactive is the best way to protect yourself. Check your credit card usage frequently to see if there is any fraudulent activity. Also make a front and back copy of all your cards so you can report credit fraud immediately and know which ones to cancel. Store them safely!
4) Review your credit reports regularly. The three credit bureaus, Experian, Transunion and Equifax, track your credit score and credit accounts. You can track to see if anyone has opened an account in your name without your knowledge. You can get a free report from each of the agencies at annualcreditreport.com. Some companies offer credit monitoring alerts to notify you if any account has been opened in your name.
5) Set up account alerts. Most credit card companies have alerts to notify you if they detect suspicious activity. You can also set it up to track any activity on your card to stay informed of your spending.
6) Watch out for skimming machines. Some thieves have gotten more sophisticated by setting up mounted devices that read credit card information at locations where cards are used such as ATMs and gas stations. Make sure when inserting your card nothing looks out of the ordinary or odd. If anything looks out of place, contact the authorities.
Anyone can be a victim of fraud. If you are a victim, make sure you inform your credit card company immediately. Report the theft to local police department and file a report. Make sure to place a fraud alert at the three credit bureaus. You can even “freeze” your credit reports so no one can access your files without your permission. Be prepared to dispute the fraudulent activity with your financial institution. Also report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission with your police file number.