The holidays are here, and for most Americans, that means shopping, parties, and more shopping. Whether you like to browse brick and mortar stores or are a savvy online shopper, you should be aware that credit card fraud during the Christmas season is on the rise.
More transactions are completed during the holiday season than any other time of the year. Shoppers who buy things online are at increased risk of credit card fraud, as thieves have targeted their efforts to internet purchases as in-store purchases are more secure due to chip technology. Some security firms are predicting an increase in credit card fraud of more than 40% this Christmas — which makes it all the more important that you take steps to protect yourself from credit card fraud.
Read on to learn what you should be aware of when shopping this Christmas — and how you can either prevent credit card fraud or minimize its impact on your life.
Beware of Discount Sites
Everyone loves a bargain, but if a good deal comes with a massive side of fraud, then you would probably be better off paying full-price. New sites are popping up regularly, offering popular products at a steep discount. Many of these sites take your personal information — including credit card number — and never send the product.
So how can you tell if a site is a scam? One easy way to find out is by doing a quick search for comparable prices. If the hoverboard that you want sells for $300 everywhere else, and this site offers it for $100, then it is probably too good to be true. You can also google the site’s name, and look beyond the first page of search results to find negative reviews and more information on the site. Chances are good that the site has scammed more than one person — and that the other person has spoken out against the site.
The best course of action is to stick to sites that you know and trust, whether it’s an online-only retailer like Amazon or the site of a store that you frequent in real life. With fraudulent activity at a peak during the holidays, it’s best to simply avoid unknown sites when shopping for presents this Christmas.
Review, Review, Review
When you’re busy decorating, baking cookies and wrapping gifts, you probably don’t want to spend the time doing paperwork or research. But spending just a few minutes checking your credit report and your credit card statements can make the difference between a fraud that is nipped in the bud — and one that destroys your credit.
Three major agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) offer free annual credit reports. The holidays are a great time to review a copy of your report. Make sure that your recognize all of the listed creditors on the account; if there is one listed that is unfamiliar, contact them directly to find out more information about the credit card or loan. You should also look at your outstanding balances to be sure that the credit cards that you do have are not being fraudulently used. If you suspect that there has been illegal activity, contact your card company immediately.
You can also check your credit card statement regularly — and you should. Unlike credit reports, you can access your card statements as often as you like; your credit card company may even have an app to make it even easier to check your balance. Use your online account access to check your balance daily or weekly. New purchases are typically posted on the same or next business day.
If there are purchases that you do not recognize, contact your credit card company immediately. It will help resolve the issue more quickly — and it may even lead to criminal prosecution of the person using your card illegally.
Watch Out for Emails
One of the most common ways that credit card fraud occurs is through scam emails. These may come from sites asking you to click a link to get a discount, or from a scammer pretending to be your credit card company alerting you to fraud or asking you to update your information.
You can do a quick check to determine the validity of the sender by just clicking next to the sender’s name; it often reveals a strange email address that is definitely not from a store or a credit card company. Never respond to these emails or click on them; instead, call your credit card company if you get a suspicious email and ask if they sent it.
Let’s face it: you probably don’t have time (especially during the holidays!) to shred all of your confidential information. You don’t want to just throw away bills with your personal info (including account numbers) on it, but you also don’t want to sit in front of a shredder. The best way to get around this dilemma is by taking advantage of paperless statements.
Your credit card company can deliver your statement electronically, alerting you each month when your statement is ready to view. Some will even send the statement directly to your bank so that you will be able to easily review and approve payment each month. Going paperless won’t stop all credit card fraud, but it can eliminate the risk of a thief stealing your personal information from the garbage.
Use a Secure Number
Because so many consumers do most of their shopping online, some credit card companies now offer the option of single use numbers to keep your account information safe. This not only protects you during that particular transaction, but also makes sure that your information won’t be compromised if the retailer is hacked. These numbers are designed to only be used one time, so if a thief steals the number, it can’t be used again — a clever way to thwart even the most determined fraudster.
This holiday season, make sure that you don’t get tricked when shopping online. Follow these tips to protect your credit card and your financial security this Christmas.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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