It’s my least favorite kind of phone call, even more so than a robocall for an extended warranty. I’m talking about the one where your credit card company or bank calls to ask if you just purchased plane tickets to Sao Paulo, Brazil or bought $500 worth of iTunes gift cards. These calls are followed by several hours of cancelling a credit card, getting a new one sent, changing any online payments you have, etc.
The fact that without credit cards we wouldn’t be weathering the current pandemic at all makes protecting them all the more important. The amount of fraudulent card use has skyrocketed in recent years, according to the Washington Post. So how can you minimize your exposure to this risk? There are several things you can do to protect yourself.
Most importantly, make sure you sign up for suspicious activity alerts on all your cards. While your credit card issuer will probably flag what they consider to be fraud, if you set up alerts you can tailor the level of alerting you want. Examples that you can set include purchases made outside the US, over a certain dollar amount, or during a certain time of day or night. Think about the way you want to be alerted as well. If you carry your smartphone with you all the time, text alerts may be best. Still have a landline? Get phone calls to keep you informed. If your computer is on 24/7, email may be the way to go. Many banks allow multiple ways of alerting simultaneously, so if you don’t mind the extra noise, turn on all the methods you can. A false positive warning is a small price to pay for early notice of a real breach.
Another good tactic is to limit which sites store your info. Most websites that handle e-sales have an option to save your credit card information. While this is handy if you use that merchant again, this also is one more place where your financial data can be stolen. It’s a bit more painful to re-enter your data each time, but not as painful as having to get a new card after a data breach.
Some cards and websites allow a “one-time” card number to be used. This is generated randomly when you make a purchase, and only works for that one transaction. The advantage of this is that your actual credit card number is not stored or transmitted, so the opportunity to steal your credentials is greatly diminished.
Overall, it never hurts to be paranoid. Make sure the link in the email you’re about to click to buy Product X actually goes to Product X’s website and isn’t a scam. How? Hover your mouse over the email link and look at the website URL. Does it look like it corresponds with the product advertised? Or is it something else entirely? When in doubt, go to the website by manually entering what should be the correct URL (www.lowes.com, for example) rather than the link in the email.
If your card does get used for fraud, be sure to notify your bank. Not only does this protect you from further crime, but it also gives the bank valuable data to help keep their systems secure.