[Lesson] Protecting Your Credit Cards

In a past post I wrote about how I believe using credit cards is actually safer than using cash. But even with the security and peace of mind credit cards can give you, there are still some precautions to take in order to add additional layers of security to your finances.

Monitor

Keep an eye on your charges throughout a billing cycle. This can be as easy as logging on to your online account and just perusing your recent charges. The minute a charge doesn’t look right, start digging a little deeper to see what is going on. Many times you can quickly identify that the suspicious looking purchase is actually legitimate and maybe was labeled differently. There have been times I have had purchases code as a slightly different name from what the merchant was but ended up being the distributor or something. Sometimes even talking to your authorized users can also clear up certain odd looking purchases. Generally if your credit card number ever gets compromised, thieves try making small purchases at first to see if you will notice and then go for the larger ones. The quicker you can identify these charges, the faster you can report them and get a new card reissued.

Avoid

Half the battle in protecting your credit card information is simply avoiding situations that may lead to your credit card getting compromised. Questionable websites and links are an easy way for someone to steal your information. Fully read any emails you receive to ensure they are truly from your bank and never input your credit information to websites that you do not fully trust.

There are also plenty of situations to avoid out in the real world, especially while traveling abroad. In the United States we are conditioned to trust the waiter or cashier to handle our credit cards with the vast majority of the time never having an swipeissue. However, in many other countries you might want to keep a closer eye on how people handle your credit card. When I traveled to South America you never wanted to have your credit card leave your sight as “skimming” was a very prevalent problem. Instead, waiters would come bring credit card swipe machines to you so you could personally witness your card being handled.

Empower

Most credit cards allow you to set up alerts when certain activity occurs on your account. These alerts can be delivered to you via email, text message, or even sometimes by a phone call. Many times you have the option to set criteria for when you will be notified such as a certain amount of money charged, charges outside of your country, charges made online, or charges made by your authorized users. These can all help you have peace of mind and added awareness of your credit cards.

React

In the case of your credit card information being compromised, knowing how to react beforehand is very important in resolving the issue quickly and with as little stress as possible. Once you have exhausted all ideas of where a suspicious charge has come from, call the number on the back of the card to report the fraudulent activity. The quicker you make that phone call the better. Literally every extra minute you wait, more and more fraudulent charges will most likely occur. Although it can be a stressful experience, try to stay calm and know the representatives on the other line are there to help.

My Experience

It was a scenario any credit card holder fears: I checked my phone and saw three text messages from my bank asking me about some recent charges. I immediately checked my transaction history on my online account and sure enough there were three odd looking charges that I knew were not mine. I quickly called my card issuer and explained what was going on. As we were on the phone more fraudulent charges were coming through. The representative on the phone worked quickly by shutting down my current credit card and re-issuing me a new credit card number. A few days later I activated my new card and went on my way. I never paid a cent of those unauthorized charges but was still shook up from how quickly some anonymous thief was able to work. I never found out where my credit card information was stolen but what I did know was the rate at which that person (or persons) spent before getting shut down. In about a 24 hour period that person bought lunch with my credit card information at an airport in Texas, flew to Europe, went on a spending spree in Greece, and then managed to start shopping in London before that credit card number got frozen. In the end there were thousands of dollars worth of unauthorized charges. However, although it sounds a little scary, my story is one of success due to how quickly I was able to know my information had been compromised and how easy the card issuer was able to put the fraudulent spending to a halt and not hold me liable. I was able to use the tactics mentioned above and had a good ending to this not so good experience.

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