Identity theft is a serious issue and one that affects many Americans every year. It has become a top concern for millennials, with 63% of those surveyed reporting that they are more worried about identity theft than any other financial risk. These numbers are not surprising considering the ease at which identity thieves can steal your personal information and use it to take over your life. Along with protecting yourself against the most common ways that thieves steal your identity, you should also be aware of when companies or individuals will try to collect on debts in your name without permission. If you’re already concerned about ID theft, read on to learn more about how to protect your credit cards from scams, fraud, and identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a type of fraud in which someone uses your personal information, such as your name and social security number, without your permission or knowledge to commit fraud. This can include stealing your identity to open up new credit accounts and make large purchases on the fraudulent account. On the other hand, it could also involve someone stealing your identity and then making you pay for an expensive service that you never authorized them to use.
How Can I Protect My Credit Card from Identity Theft or Fraud?
The best way to protect your credit card is to have a chip and PIN card. These cards require the consumer to enter a unique number that only they know in order to use the card. This means that there is no personal information on the card itself, so thieves will not be able to steal it without being caught. If you don’t have this type of credit card, or if you do but you are worried about using it, then consider using a different form of payment such as cash or Venmo. If someone steals your card and uses it fraudulently, then you can report them to your bank and get your money back.
Other ways to protect your credit cards from being used without permission include:
- Don’t use unsecure websites: You may notice that the website address begins with “HTTPS,” or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. If a web page is not secure, don’t enter your credit card number on it! And let’s be honest: if a business isn’t offering protection of its customers’ data in some way, they probably shouldn’t have any kind of service-period.
- Beware of phishing scams: In today’s world, scams are technically sophisticated. You can easily tell when something is fake by observing the email address or requesting your credit card information. If they request you reply with your account number, it’s likely a scammer trying to collect data for identity theft purposes.
- Be on the lookout for skimmers: A credit card skimmer is a device on ATMs, fuel pumps, and other places that thieves use to steal your credit card information. They try to hide these devices in the place you would normally insert your card so they can “skim” data from the magnetic strip at the back of it.
- Don’t post sensitive information on social media: This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Social media’s popularity among thieves has been increasing, as thieves comb through social media looking for clues about you and your financial data. Plus, don’t use the name of any family member or pet for a password.
- Get comfortable with mobile payment apps: In-store card readers are a part of a growing threat to your information online. Here, you can make your payments using mobile payment apps like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay that use tokenization technology to safeguard your credit card account numbers and data.
- Shop in stores that have chip readers: Using an EMV chip card is more secure than using a magnetic-strip card, and it’s also helpful when you’re shopping online. However, in order to protect yourself the best possible way, try not to shop online if you can avoid it. Don’t forget that there are still retailers who only use magnetic-strip cards when they check out customers at checkout.
- Don’t save your credit card information online: This is a tricky one because it takes time. You have to stop and find the card before you can enter your account number on the websites you frequent. However, if that’s something you’re willing to do in order to decrease your risk of fraud, then this would be an effective technique for protecting yourself.
- Use a virtual credit card number online: Virtual numbers are a way to use your credit card online without using your actual credit card number. You can request virtual account numbers from issuers and use them for the entire day or up to 24 hours, depending on which is shorter. Through an issuer’s tool, you’ll be able to make purchases through this virtual account number instead of your regular one.
- Use a password manager: Password management is a pain. When we have multiple passwords, it’s important that they’re different and the same password isn’t used across multiple accounts. If you lose one of your passwords, make sure to change them on all sites so this doesn’t happen again.
- Don’t trust public Wi-Fi for financial transactions: In Europe, most credit cards have a chip and PIN feature. In the U.S., the majority of card issuers still do not offer this system currently because there has been little demand for it here in comparison to other countries where chip-and-PIN is used regularly. Without a PIN, you may have difficulty using automated kiosks abroad or be at risk of becoming exposed to potential fraud.
- Set up a fraud alert or credit freeze if your card is lost or stolen: If you are ever concerned that your credit card has been lost or stolen, the safest thing to do is contact your credit card issuer immediately. The most secure way to do this would be by setting up a fraud alert or by freezing your account with a freeze on all of its information. With either option, when someone tries to notify them about an impostor’s attempt at opening an account in their name, they will have enough time for verification before proceedings move forward and it becomes possible for anything fraudulent to happen (e.g., charges being put onto the wrong personal accounts).
- Review your credit reports regularly:
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
An identity thief will often steal your personal information by going through your trash or stealing your wallet. A trash can is a great place to find someone’s personal information because they are not careful with what they throw away, which means there may be sensitive documents that the identity thief can use to access your bank account, credit cards, and other important personal information. If you keep your garbage in an easy-to-access area of your home or office, make sure that you have a secure locking lid on it at all times.
What if I Think Someone has Stolen My Identity?
If you think someone has stolen your identity, there are a few steps you should take. First, if you believe your identity has been compromised, call the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These agencies will report any fraudulent activity to the appropriate companies so they can investigate.