Credit card scams and how to avoid them

Credit card scams are on the rise and, according to research, US and Canadian citizens are more likely to be victims of this crime than any other country in the world, with billions lost each year to scammers and fraudsters.

Individuals and businesses can be exposed to credit card scams, which are now recognized as the most common form of identity theft – there were half a million cases in the US last year only. Fortunately, there are several simple steps you can take to avoid getting caught in a scam – here’s what you need to know.

Only buy from trusted websites

One of the most common ways in which scammers obtain victims’ credit card details is through cloning or fake websites. These sites may look completely legit and might even impersonate a well-known brand’s website, but they have actually been created by scammers just to harvest card details from unsuspecting visitors.

Avoid this by only buying from trusted sites. To do this, start by looking at the address bar of the website to make sure it is the company you think you are. Scammers deploy tricks such as replacing the odd letter with a special character (like a $ for an S) so that, at first glance, the website address looks legitimate.

Also make sure the address starts with ‘HTTPS’ rather than just ‘HTTP’ – this indicates that it is secure and that mechanisms are in place to protect your payment and personal data.

Use secure payment processing systems

How you process customer card transactions is crucial for businesses to prevent customer details from falling into the wrong hands.

Make sure your merchant service provider offers the highest levels of security possible – some are specifically designed for what are considered “high risk” industries. It’s also critical to ensure that any physical copies of receipts your business has are kept safe. This means keeping them locked up, ideally in a safe, where they are not easily accessible.

Check your statements regularly

A simple but extremely effective way to guard against credit card scams is to check your card statements regularly: ideally once or twice a fortnight.

Many scammers, after getting their hands on your card details, will initially embezzle very small amounts of money, so you’re unlikely to notice. After a while, they may use your card details to make an expensive purchase, potentially wiping out your available funds.

Comb through your statements, looking for anything unusual or a payment to a business or individual you don’t recognize. If you spot anything suspicious, contact your bank or card issuers immediately to let them know what happened.

Protect your card

Scammers don’t just operate in the digital world: it’s important to take steps to keep your physical card secure.

Crooks now have access to devices that can potentially harvest your card details even when safely hidden in your wallet or pocket – crooks just need to be physically close to you – which can be done surreptitiously queuing to pay, for example, or walking through a busy store.

Now cardholders in the marketplace will block attempts to read these details – a simple and cost-effective way to guard against fraudsters. Alternatively, although unconfirmed, some suggest wrap a card in aluminum foil will also have the same protective effect.

Keep your devices safe

Scammers can also access your credit card through the devices you use. To avoid being hacked, make sure you not only deploy high-quality virus and malware protection, but also update it regularly.

Also avoid using public Wi-Fi connections, especially to make purchases. These connections are relatively easy for hackers and snoopers to access, allowing them to get their hands on your card and personal data.

Consider using a VPN (a virtual private network) to connect to the internet, which provides a much more secure way to be online and even makes connecting via public Wifi safe.

A VPN works by protecting your device’s IP address and encrypting all internet traffic – even in the unlikely event that a hacker gains access to your data, they won’t be able to interpret it.

Stay safe from phishing attacks

Phishing attacks are on the rise and are a common way for scammers to commit credit card fraud. Typically, an email is sent to an unsuspecting recipient, often appearing to come from a legitimate company or brand or possibly the recipient’s bank. However, when the victim clicks on the link and enters the requested details, they are actually giving their information to a scammer.

Always be on your guard against phishing e-mails: never click on a link unless you are absolutely certain that the message is from who it is supposed to be. Poor spelling, grammar or formatting is a major red flag of a phishing scam, as well as an incorrect “from” address. To check the latter, simply hover over the sender’s name and see if it matches the company the message is supposed to come from.

Stay safe from scams

Approximately 10% of the adult population in the United States fall victim to credit card scams each year – avoid becoming part of this statistic by taking the relevant steps outlined above to stay safe from fraudsters.

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About Shirley L. Kreger

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