Credit card fraud can occur when consumers give their credit card number to unfamiliar individuals, when cards are lost or stolen, when mail is diverted from the intended recipient and taken by criminals, or when employees of a business copy the cards or card numbers of the company's customers. Then,
- Unauthorized charges are made to the victim's credit card.
- Counterfeit cards are made with the victim's account number.
Identity theft is the fraudulent use of someone's personal information—such as their Social Security number or date of birth—to commit financial fraud.
- Identity thieves can harm and inconvenience victims by using their names and other personal information to commit crimes, open new credit accounts and access existing credit and bank accounts.
- While victims of identity theft are not held liable for the crimes, it takes a lot of work by victims to prove fraud and clean up the financial chaos caused by the crimes.
Skimming is making an illegal copy of a credit card or a bank card using a device that reads and duplicates the information from the original card.
- Dishonest business employees use small machines called "skimmers" to read numbers and other information from credit cards and capture and resell it to criminals.
- Criminals use the information to create counterfeit cards or to charge items over the phone or the Internet.
Phishing is sending massive numbers of phony e-mails to consumers, pretending that the messages come from the person's bank, in an effort to get the intended victim to reveal personal information, such as bank account numbers.
- Phishing has become a widespread practice of criminals, who have succeeded in stealing personal information via e-mail from many people. The crime succeeds because the e-mails look legitimate, with realistic bank logos and web site addresses, or URLs, that are very close to the real thing.
- When account holders respond, they are directed to a fake web site where they are asked to type in account numbers, passwords and other personal banking or credit card information. Then, in a matter of hours, the criminals drain the victims' bank accounts, using the passwords to authorize the electronic transfer of funds to other accounts.
- Banks never ask for personal information in this way. Don't respond to e-mails — or phone calls — asking you to provide your credit card numbers, Social Security number or your mother's maiden name.
- Even when you have a legitimate request, banks ask that you never send detailed account information in an e-mail, because e-mails are not secure and the information may be intercepted by criminals. Instead, visit in
person, use the bank's secure web site, call on the phone or write a letter when you are attempting to settle a dispute with a merchant or your bank.
Security codes are three- or four-digit numbers found on the back of credit cards that are used by some merchants to verify that the card is in your possession when you make purchases by phone or on the Internet.
- The numbers are found at the top right corner of the card on Visa and MasterCard credit cards, or on the back, following the printed credit card number, near the space where you sign the card.
- If your card number and expiration date were stolen, but not the card itself, the thief would not have access to the security code required by many merchants when you make online purchases.
- As a protection, most card issuers now suggest that you call from your home phone to activate a new card before you use it.
- Sign the back of the card with a permanent black ink pen as soon as you receive it.
- Some people suggest writing "ask for ID" in the signature space. This is not a good idea. Consider signing your cards instead of writing "ask for ID." Many credit card issuers have advised merchants not to let purchases go through if the card isn't signed.
- Record all your account numbers and company contact information and keep the record in a safe, secure place.
- Keep copies of your vouchers and ATM receipts, so that you can check them against your billing statements.
Protect your wallet or purse
- Keep a close eye on your belongings.
- Never carry all your cards — only bring the one or two that you might need.
- Carry your credit cards separately from your wallet, in a credit card case or in another compartment in your purse.
- If your wallet or purse is stolen, call your credit card issuers immediately.
Avoid mail fraud
- Notify the post office immediately if you change your address.
- Make sure your mailbox is secure and always locked. Never leave your outgoing bill payments in an unlocked mail box or apartment building lobby.
- Call your credit card and banking companies to change your billing address when you move.
- Always put your complete return address on the envelope.
- Shred all your unwanted credit card solicitations before you discard them.
- Know when your credit card and other bills are due to arrive, and call the companies if you fail to receive them.