Summer is here, which means vacations, travel and county fairs. Chances are you'll be using a credit or debit card even more than you normally do in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, that also makes you a ripe target for card theft. Fortunately, we have some tips to help keep you safe.
How do fraudsters capture your card info?
Credit and Debit card thieves have a variety of tricks they use to steal card info from unsuspecting victims. Some can be easy to spot if you know what to look for, others are much more sophisticated and can't be completely stopped (but you can still mitigate the chances of being victimized). Here's a couple of the most common ways for the information for any credit/debit card to be stolen and tips for how to avoid them:
Card skimmers are probably the most old fashioned trick in the book. A skimmer is a device which collects credit and debit card data as the card passes through it. Many of them are designed to fit over an already existing card reader and blend in, making people less likely to notice them. Most skimmers collect and hold the info of the cards that pass through them and later, the thief returns and collects the skimmer (and your data). Skimmers are most commonly used at gas stations and grocery/convenience type stores as well as ATMs. All of which tend to be common stops during the summer travel months.
How to avoid: Skimmers are a physical device and are usually designed for quick attachment and removal by the thief. The most straight forward way to avoid them is to check the device you're going to put your card through. Does the card reader seem to be a bit bulky or not quite fit together properly? If you grab onto the reader and pull or twist slightly does part of if pull away easily? If so, you may well have found a skimmer. If you're stopping at a place you don't normally go, pay extra attention to what you use your card with. (note, we don't condone going around and breaking peoples card readers!)
Skimming viruses use the same principal that regular skimmers do. In this case however, instead of a physical device being attached to a card reader, the skimming is done by a malicious piece of software installed into the card reader itself. This most commonly occurs with readers which are connected to a network although it's still pretty rare compared to a traditional skimmer.
How to avoid: Unfortunately, there's no easy way to tell if a machine is infected with skimming malware so there's not much to check. Your best bet in this case is to take note of any odd behavior in the card machine. Refusal to read your card or needing to read multiple times can be a potential indicator. In addition to this, we've got some further advice a little further down that can help.
Data breaches at large companies such as e-tailers, booking or travel sites are becoming an extremely popular method for thieves to get not only credit/debit card info but also names, addresses, and more. The catch 22 here is that credit and debit cards are often the only common way to pay on these websites meaning you don't have much choice when it comes to booking the hotel for the family vacation.
How to avoid: Short of not going on vacation, you'll find that you most likely will have to provide card details to a site once in a while. That doesn't mean you can't take precautions however. Many websites will allow you to save credit card information. Don't do this. Instead, opt to have your card info entered for just that transaction. Even on websites that you regularly buy from this can help prevent card theft. That said, not every site discards your info once you've placed your order, even if you've said not to retain it.
There are still several other ways for card info to be stolen and far too many for just one article. Not to worry though, here are some additional tips to help you catch card theft no matter what methods the bad guys use:
Watch your statements
This one is a no-brainer really. Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements. Most banks now offer online ledgers that are kept up to date daily. If possible, set aside some time each week to check these online ledgers and look for any odd purchases or activity. One of the most common signs of fraud are several small purchases (ranging from a few cents to a few dollars) that are immediately refunded. This tends to be a sign that your card is being tested by a thief to see whether or not the info is good. If you do pick up on some unusual activity, call your bank immediately and have them cancel your card.
Use as few cards as possible
Using smaller number of cards makes it easier to keep an eye on things. It's easier to make time to look at two statements each week than it is ten. If you do need to use multiple cards, try to segment each one to a specific use. For example, use one card for gas and another one for groceries and a third for online shopping. This way, if one card becomes compromised you'll have an easier time tracking down where it was used and what may have happened.
Don't use debit cards
Try to avoid using debit cards whenever possible. If a debit card is stolen, the money that is charged on it is your money. Banks are much less likely to care about fraud charges on debit cards and you may find yourself out of whatever money was withdrawn from the account. Credit cards on the other hand, are the bank's money and they'll do whatever it takes to rectify the situation to prevent losses on their end. The best course of action, if possible, is to use a credit card for purchasing and then pay the card off when it is due. This effectively acts the same as a debit card but helps keep your money in your pocket (it won't hurt your credit score either!).
Admittedly, this one may be a bit drastic in today's world but you can't hack paper and you can't skim a dollar bill.
Safe and secure transactions
Hopefully these tips will help you spend your summer having fun without the headaches of dealing with stolen bank cards. If there's one thing today away from today, it's that you can never be too vigilant when it comes to making purchases with plastic.