Avoiding credit card fraud

There are lots of other types of credit card fraud, and anyone can fall victim to them at any time. They include:

A thief goes through trash to find discarded receipts or carbons, and then uses your account numbers illegally.

A dishonest clerk makes an extra imprint from your credit or charge card and uses it to make personal charges.

You respond to a mailing asking you to call a long distance number for a free trip or bargain-priced travel package. You’re told you must join a travel club first and you’re asked for your account number so you can be billed. The catch? Charges you didn’t make are added to your bill, and you never get your trip.

Credit and charge card fraud costs cardholders and issuers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. While theft is the most obvious form of fraud, it can occur in other ways. For example, someone may use your card number without your knowledge.

It’s not always possible to prevent credit or charge card fraud from happening. But there are a few steps you can take to make it more difficult for a crook to capture your card or card numbers and minimize the possibility.

Guarding Against Fraud

Here are some tips to help protect yourself from credit and charge card fraud.

Do

Sign your cards as soon as they arrive.

Carry your cards separately from your wallet, in a zippered compartment, a business card holder, or another small pouch.

Keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates, and the phone number and address of each company in a secure place.

Keep an eye on your card during the transaction, and get it back as quickly as possible.

Void incorrect receipts.

Destroy carbons.

Save receipts to compare with billing statements.

Open bills promptly and reconcile accounts monthly, just as you would your checking account.

Report any questionable charges promptly and in writing to the card issuer.

Notify card companies in advance of a change in address.

Don’t

Lend your cards to anyone.

Leave cards or receipts lying around.

Sign a blank receipt. When you sign a receipt, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.

Write your account number on a postcard or the outside of an envelope.

Give out your account number over the phone unless you’re making the call to a company you know is reputable. If you have questions about a company, check it out with your local consumer protection office or Better Business Bureau.

Reporting losses and fraud

If you lose your credit or charge cards or if you realize they’ve been lost or stolen, immediately call the issuers. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies. By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges. In any event, your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card.

If you suspect fraud, you may be asked to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchases in question.

Credit card loss protection offers: They’re the real steal

“I got a call from a woman who said I need credit card loss protection insurance. I thought there was a law that limited my liability to $50 for unauthorized charges. But she said the law had changed and that now, people are liable for all unauthorized charges on their account. Is that true?”

Don’t buy the pitch, and don’t buy the “loss protection” insurance. Telephone scam artists are lying to get people to buy worthless credit card loss protection and insurance programs. If you didn’t authorize a charge, don’t pay it. Follow your credit card issuer’s procedures for disputing charges you haven’t authorized. According to the Federal Trade Commission, your liability for unauthorized charges is limited to $50.

The FTC says worthless credit card loss protection offers are popular among fraudulent promoters who are trying to exploit consumers’ uncertainty. As a result, the agency is cautioning consumers to avoid doing business with callers who claim that:

  • you’re liable for more than $50 in unauthorized charges on your credit card account;
  • you need credit card loss protection because computer hackers can access your credit card number and charge thousands of dollars to your account;
  • a computer bug could make it easy for thieves to place unauthorized charges on your credit card account; and
  • they’re from “the security department” and want to activate the protection feature on your credit card.

The FTC advises consumers not to give out personal information — including their credit card or bank account numbers — over the phone or online unless they are familiar with the business that’s asking for it. Scam artists can use your personal information to commit fraud, such as identity theft. That’s where someone uses some piece of your personal information, such as your credit card account number, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or birth date without your knowledge or permission to commit fraud or theft. An all-too-common example is when an identity thief uses your personal information to open a credit card account in your name.

To learn more about protecting yourself against credit card fraud and identity theft, call the FTC toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or visit www.ftc.gov.

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