Avoid Credit Card Fraud

Cases of identity theft and credit fraud are increasing on an annual basis in the United States even as monitoring and protection systems get more refined and comprehensive. While most credit cards come with identity protection and theft prevention services, the best way to protect your credit is by following a few best-practices with your personal and credit information.

1. Check Your Statements Every Month.

The most common cases of fraud involve unauthorized transactions on a credit card. Many unauthorized transactions don’t even involve the use of the physical card itself anymore; a name, credit card number, expiration date and security code are all it takes to buy something online or over the phone. For this reason, you should never assume that you can't be the victim of fraudulent activity just because you haven't had your card lost or stolen.

The best way to guard around this kind of unwanted use of your card information is to check your statements monthly. Don't share your credit statements with anyone, and keep them secure and safe at all times. Read your statements carefully and look for payments and purchases you don’t remember authorizing.

If you suspect fraud, don't wait — call your credit card company right away. All major credit card companies provide their own resolution services for transactions you didn't authorize. A phone number is often available for customer service on your credit statements. Call the company, report the unauthorized activity and request that the transaction be cancelled or reversed. They can also issue you a new card so that your credit line is not further compromised.

If you receive paper statements, and you don't need them for personal budgeting and other financial purposes, shred them once you're finished reading them and checking for fraudulent activity.

2. Report Lost or Stolen Cards Immediately.

If you're no longer in possession of your card, report it to your credit card company immediately. The longer your card is not in your hands, the more likely it will be used by someone else. Review your last statement with your credit card company and make sure that no unauthorized purchases have been made since you first lost your card. They will issue you a new card with a new number and security code. If any purchases you didn't ask for have been made, they can cancel or reverse the transactions.

3. Tell Your Bank and Your Credit Card Company When You Travel.

Planning to leave the state or country? Place a call to your local bank branch, as well as your credit card issuer. Let them know where you’re going and for how long. Many financial institutions monitor transactions on your credit lines, debit cards and other accounts to look for fraudulent activity. If your card is suddenly transacting far away from your hometown, and you haven’t notified the applicable bank or card issuer, it may be flagged for possible fraud and you may receive a phone call requesting confirmation of transactions.

It's especially important to let your financial institutions know when you’re leaving for a long time or leaving the country, but it's a good idea to call each and every time you take a vacation or travel for business.

4. Protect Your Personal Information.

Don't give your credit information to anyone you don’t have to in order to make purchases or set up one-time or recurring bill payments.

Create strong passwords for your online credit logins, and keep your passwords safe. A strong password contains combinations of letters, numbers and special characters and is not obvious – avoid using your name, your date of birth or anything else that someone could quickly guess.

If you're calling in a purchase (such as ordering food), make sure you're not somewhere where you can be overheard. The last thing you want is for someone to be writing down your credit information from just a few feet away as you're giving it out over the phone.

Finally, don't carry anything around in your wallet or purse that you don't need. Many people make the mistake of holding onto all forms of personal identification and all credit and debit cards in one place, but it's a good idea to leave behind what you won't be using that day. If your wallet or purse is stolen, they'll make off with every piece of personal and credit information you've been carrying.

5. Opt for Online Billing and Statements.

Whenever possible, avoid paper billing and statements. Online credit statements and bills can be more secure than statements sent by-mail. It's much easier to steal your credit information from a piece of paper than it is from a secure login-based website through a financial institution or credit card company. Have your bills sent to you electronically and pay them electronically. You can usually get online alerts or enroll in an electronic reminder system so you don’t fall behind on payments.

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