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Avoiding credit card fraud

Your credit card only leaves your wallet when you make a charge. It’s still snugly sitting in there now, as a matter of fact. So where did all these strange, huge charges on your bill — that you didn’t make — come from? Your actual card wasn’t stolen — what happened?

Credit card security

Debit and credit card fraud costs cardholders and issuers billions of dollars each year. While physical theft of the card is the most obvious form of fraud, it can occur in many other ways too.

How thieves and hackers access your accounts

  • A thief goes through trash to find discarded receipts, and then uses your account numbers illegally.
  • A dishonest clerk makes an extra imprint from your credit or charge card and uses it to make personal charges.
  • You respond to a mailing asking you to call a long distance number for a free trip or bargain-priced travel package. You’re told you must join a travel club first and you’re asked for your account number so you can be billed. The catch? Charges you didn’t make are added to your bill, and you never get your trip.
  • You purchased an app for your smartphone from an unfamiliar vendor, who sold your account number to identity thieves.
  • You were victim of a phishing scam and unknowingly gave out your bank account information.
  • You didn’t keep up with antivirus/antispyware protection on your computer, and malware or a keyword logger lifted your credit card account number or bank account password.
  • You purchased a fabulous new dress online. Unfortunately, it was from an unsecured site. (Remember to look for the little lock symbol!)
  • You opened an email attachment from a stranger which contained a Trojan virus that infiltrated your computer, allowing thieves to steal your personal information.
  • You wrote all your account passwords on a piece of paper and placed it in your wallet for safe keeping. Oops… you lost your wallet.

Guarding against fraud

It’s not always possible to prevent credit card or bank account fraud from happening. But there are a few steps you can take to make it more difficult for a crook to capture your card or card numbers and minimize the possibility.


  • Sign your cards as soon as they arrive.
  • Carry your cards separately from your wallet, in a zippered compartment, a business card holder or another small pouch.
  • Keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number and address of each company in a secure place.
  • Keep an eye on your card during transactions, and get it back as quickly as possible.
  • Void incorrect receipts.
  • Save receipts to compare with billing statements.
  • Open bills promptly and reconcile accounts monthly, just as you do your checking account.
  • Report any questionable charges promptly and in writing to the card issuer.
  • Notify card companies in advance of a change in address.
  • Only shop or download from reputable, familiar online sites or app marketplaces.
  • Keep antivirus and antispyware programs updated and active.
  • Lock your smartphone when you aren’t using it.
  • Type in URLs, rather than cutting and pasting them in or clicking on any link from a website or an email.
  • Only open email attachments from people you know and trust.


  • Lend your cards to anyone.
  • Leave cards or receipts lying around.
  • Sign a blank receipt. When you sign a receipt, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
  • Write your account number or login/password on a scrap of paper or the outside of an envelope.
  • Give out your account number over the phone unless you’re making the call to a company you know is reputable. If you have questions about a company, check it out with your local consumer protection office or Better Business Bureau.

Next up: How to report losses and fraud >>

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