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Watch Out for Credit Card Scams

Protect yourself from unauthorized charges and identity theft

When criminals get your credit card number, they can use it to make purchases or, even worse, to open other accounts in your name (steal your identity). Many credit cards don't require you to pay for fraudulent charges, but you may spend a good number of hours and dollars trying to reclaim your identity and get your credit back to good standing.

Common Types of Scams
Thieves have numerous ways of getting your credit card information. Here are just a few:

Interest rate reduction. A scammer leaves you a prerecorded message saying you're eligible for a program to help you lower your interest rates and pay off your credit cards faster. All you have to do is pay a fee and enroll in the program. Whether you accept the offer or not, the scammer charges your credit card and never provides the service.

Avoid this scam by not responding to messages of this kind, or to humans calling for a similar reason. Instead, hang up immediately. Never give out your personal information in a phone call you didn't initiate. Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov). Finally, know that credit card companies will often lower interest rates for customers in good standing; all you have to do is ask.

Fraud on your account. Here you get a call from someone claiming to be from your credit card's fraud department. They say there's been suspicious activity on your card, and they need to verify certain information with you such as the three-digit number on the back of your card. If you give them the number, you're ironically giving them ammunition to commit actual fraud on your account.

Avoid this scam by knowing your credit card company may actually call you about fraud, but will never ask you for personal information. To be sure, hang up with the person calling and call your credit card company directly. If you spot a fraudulent charge on your bill before they do, be sure to call them immediately to report it.

Jury duty trouble. In this case, a scammer calls and tells you that you're in trouble for not showing up for jury duty. When you say you never received a jury duty notice, the scammer tells you that to get out of trouble, you need to verify certain information, which may include your address, Social Security number, birth date, and credit card number.

Avoid this scam by never giving out personal information during a call you didn't initiate. Instead, contact your local jurisdiction and ask if they sent you a jury duty notice. If they did, you can follow up appropriately with them; know that the process will never involve them asking for a credit card number.

Hotel computer system. The criminal calls your hotel room, claims to be a front desk employee, and tells you the hotel's computer system is experiencing technical problems and your credit card number is needed again. If you give the number to them, you're providing the means to use it to make charges.

Avoid this scam by not giving your credit card number to any caller, unless you initiate the call. Instead, hang up with the caller and dial the front desk from your room. Or, even better, go there in person to ask about the "technical problems."

Skimming devices. The latest credit card scams are high-tech ones. Skimming devices are installed by thieves in place of real credit card readers, especially at gas station pumps and ATMs. It's fairly easy to do, especially considering there is a universal key that opens most gas station pumps in the country! When you run your card through these machines, the information gets transmitted to the scammer.

Avoid this scam by inspecting all credit card machines and not using those that show signs of tampering. When you do use these machines, cover your hand when you enter your PIN, as there may be cameras installed as well. If possible, keep your card in your hand at all times and carefully watch clerks who take it to make sure they're not using a skimmer on the side.


How Do Scammers Know So Much About Me?

Scammers are a crafty bunch, and to a certain degree, you can't stop their research activities. But you do have control over a lot of your information. You may not even have considered some of the ways in which you're giving away your data:

Entering contests. When you enter contests, marketers collect information like your name, age, and address, as well as personal interests. Some of this information could make you a target.

Filling out surveys. Surveys about how you felt about a particular product or service often ask these questions, too. Survey information can be sold to other firms or to criminals.

Sharing information on social media. If you share on social media and don't have your settings locked down, you could be letting strangers know more about you than you want.

Throwing mail in the trash. There's a reason for the common advice to shred documents with personal information — anyone can find it if it's left out with your other trash.


What to Do if You're the Victim of a Credit Card Scam

If you notice irregularities in your credit card bill or your credit report — or if you start getting bills from companies you don't have accounts with or are unexpectedly declined for credit — move quickly to take action. Here's what to do:

  1. Contact your bank or credit card company. Ask them to remove the charges you didn't make, to cancel your account, and to send you a new card. (Keep in mind that credit cards have stronger protections than debit cards in these situations.)
  2. Change your PIN. While on the phone with your credit card company representative, ask them how to change your PIN.
  3. Change your password. Go to your online credit card account and change the password for it. Make sure it's a strong password, that is, at least 15 characters and including uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  4. Get credit reports. If you noticed the problem through your credit card, don't forget to also check your credit reports.You can get copies of the reports from all three major credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) at annualcreditreport.com. Consider getting just one now, and the others a few weeks later, in case fraudulent activity has yet to show up. Be sure to take the steps they give for reporting any errors that you find.
  5. Initiate a fraud alert. This action notifies lenders to call you to verify your identity before extending new credit. This can be helpful if the person who has access to your credit card information is trying to get new accounts opened. Any one of the three credit reporting agencies can initiate this process. When you put a security alert in place with one of them, it extends to all three. If the problem is ongoing, consider extending the fraud alert or adding a credit freeze.
  6. File a police report. You can initiate this process with your local authorities. Also consider reporting the act to the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov.
  7. Get a recovery plan. If you believe you're the victim of identity theft (that is, problems with accounts or your credit beyond just transactions on one card), return to identitytheft.gov and click "Get Started" to get a recovery plan for your specific situation. You can also browse the complete list of recovery steps.
  8. Carefully watch other accounts. Keep close tabs on your other accounts, such as bank loans and utilities, to make sure they haven't been affected.
  9. Keep records. Keep track of everyone you speak to and the actions that were taken. Follow up if someone promises to help you with something and doesn't.