Technology has changed the way we live, especially as consumers. You can order dinner without leaving the couch or request a ride (in most cities) by using apps on your phone. Convenience, however, comes at the cost of providing your personal data, including credit card and banking information, and many people do so freely. Just think about the number of websites that have your personal identifying information (date of birth, social security number, etc.) and how many have your banking and credit card information – probably too many to count!
Some remain hesitant however when it comes to sharing their information and rightfully so; we have witnessed hackers stealing masses of digital data from corporations and even government entities. Of course, thieves can still get your personal and/or credit card information by breaking into your mailbox or digging through your trash, but hacking and phishing are increasingly prevalent methods of stealing personal data.
In fact, it’s been widely reported that corporate data breaches are on the rise. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 470 data breaches reported in 2012. In 2017, there were 1,579, including the far reaching attack at Equifax in September. If a credit rating agency – whose purpose it is to protect the integrity of consumers’ credit history – cannot protect its data, how can individual consumers do so?
Identity theft and credit card fraud can take many forms. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 2.7 million consumers reported fraud in 2017, leading to reported losses of $905 million, which is up $63 million from 2016. While the addition of chip technology for credit cards has helped to decrease the incidence of credit card theft at the point of sale, online credit card fraud is much more common.
In an environment where our personal and payment information seems to be readily available for online theft and difficult to protect, what can we do protect ourselves? What do we do if we are victims of credit fraud or identity theft?
When it comes to credit cards, you can’t prevent fraud 100% of the time but there are steps you can take to decrease your odds of becoming a victim. As soon as you realize that your credit card has been lost or stolen, call the credit card issuer; you won’t be responsible for any charges made once you file the report. Be aware, however, that you may have to testify under oath that you didn’t make the charges in question. In addition, your credit card issuer may proactively send you a new card from time to time if there is a known breach.
Here are a few more things you can do to protect your card information:
- Don’t lend your card to anyone and be sure your card and statements aren’t sitting out at home or the office.
- When you no longer need your card, cut it up before throwing it away.
- Don’t give your card number to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and know the company to be reputable.
- Carry only one card in your wallet if possible in case it is lost or stolen.
- Keep your eye on your card if possible during any transaction.
- Check your online statements regularly to ensure the charges were initiated by you.
- Notify your card issuer if you are traveling or have a change of address.
Phishing is the practice of sending fraudulent e-mails or texts that look like communication from trusted companies or people, with the intention of tricking you into sharing your personal information.
You’ve likely experienced some sort of phishing at some point in your life, whether you know it or not. Imposter scams, including online phishing, accounted for a large percentage of the complaints received by the FTC. Unfortunately, thieves are getting smarter and using more sophisticated phishing and imposter scams to trick you into giving your information away, which may include social security numbers, logins and passwords and bank account numbers. They may even hack the e-mails of friends or family members in order to impersonate them and make it appear like the request for money is from someone you trust. Many imposters also took advantage of victims over the phone and requested wire transfers or credit card information.
Typically, these thieves will try to make you feel like there is a sense of urgency to their request and that something bad will happen if they don’t get the information quickly. While these scams can be difficult to recognize, there are practices you can implement to help avoid them:
- Don’t open an attachment or link in an e-mail unless you are expecting it and know the source. Phishing e-mails may use the exact logos and email style of trusted organizations.
- If you have a question about an e-mail, type the website into your browser yourself rather than clicking on the link.
- If you are unsure about whether an e-mail is coming from a friend, client or family member, pick up the phone and call them. This is especially true if they are asking you to send money or provide information.
- Turn on two-factor authentication where possible.
- Back up your computer and network data.
- The IRS will never call you, so remember those phone calls are always scams.
If you’re looking for even more security, you might consider signing up for an identity theft and monitoring service. These are provided by the major credit reporting agencies (Experian and TransUnion) as well as a large number of services that offer protection for a fee, such as IdentityForce and LifeLock.
It’s a good idea to research the right solution that best addresses your personal risks. And lastly, if you become victim to a hacking, phishing or credit card scam, report it to the FTC Complaint Assistant.