Protect Yourself From Credit Card Thieves

By Steve Rosen Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) How can you keep your credit card information safe? Columnist Steve Rosen takes a look at a few steps to protect you and your family.

Tribune News Service

I was deep into my summer vacation when I got the call with the dreaded message: My credit card had been compromised.

The caller was from the card security department at my bank. He wanted to know if I had made a $42 purchase on my credit card at a gas station in Texas. I had not, emphasizing that I was currently more than 1,500 miles north in Wisconsin.

Then he asked about a $50 purchase at a grocery store in Texas. That one, as it turned out, was red-flagged by the bank's security system and rejected.

The card security caller told me that my credit card had been deactivated and that I would be issued a new one with a new number. He said I should receive it within five business days.

That made me both relieved and nervous. Relieved that my bank was watching my transactions, but nervous that my credit history might have been compromised. (It wasn't.)

I should not have been surprised by the call. The day before I was contacted by the bank, I had trouble purchasing a plane ticket. I had made it through the online ticketing process, only to get a message at the end saying the transaction hadn't gone through. Three times, with the same results. Now I knew why.

Count me among the millions of Americans who have been victimized by credit card fraud. This was the second time in 10 years my credit card has been compromised.

And, as I've revealed in past columns, more than 10 years ago some of my personal information was mysteriously attached to past-due loans owed by someone with the same first and last name. I still get calls from bill collectors once or twice a year.

My message to parents is this: If your child carries a credit card, at some point he or she will likely be a victim of credit card or identity theft. In fact, you should count on it, despite vastly improved theft prevention technology and despite more security checks and balances. I don't care what the security experts say; thieves always seem to be one step ahead.

Will your kids, especially young college students carrying plastic for the first time, know what to do if their card has been compromised? Do they know how to avoid being easy targets?

You can't always count on the card issuer to alert you first about questionable and out-of-the-ordinary card purchases. So if you suspect a problem or see an unfamiliar charge on your paper or online card statement, act quickly.

Call the bank to challenge the purchase, which will likely result in the card being cancelled and a new card issued.

The financial services website NerdWallet recommends that when the new card arrives you should update all your personal contact information and passwords on accounts where there are automatic debits, such as car loans and insurance.

It's especially important to make sure your payment information is changed to avoid delinquencies on bills, NerdWallet says.

Shortly after my new card arrived, I received a notice of a service being discontinued because the company could not debit my account for a quarterly payment. A phone call with my new card number fixed it.

Even after getting a new card, stay vigilant. Keep an eye on your credit card transactions. In my case, when I looked at my old account online, I noticed more damage, a $4,000 purchase made at an Ikea store just before the card had been deactivated. Bank security wiped this clean.

If it's taking an unusually long time for the new card to arrive, don't assume that all is well. Make a call.

A family member relayed this bad experience: After being notified of some fraudulent charges on her card, it was cancelled and the bank mailed a new one. Two weeks later, still no card.

It turns out the mailing envelope with the new card had been left at her front door, and someone took it and tried to make charges on it. Finally, a new card was mailed through the postal service and left in her mailbox, which is a locked box.

Keep in mind that federal regulations limit your liability from unauthorized credit card charges to $50 if you report it within about two business days. But most banks offer zero fraud liability.

Remind your inexperienced card holder not to be an easy target for thieves. Don't leave your plastic out in the open in your unattended dorm room. And if you are running a tab at a bar or restaurant, don't lose sight of your card.

If your child is planning an out-of-town vacation over a long fall weekend, make sure the bank is alerted first that out-of-the ordinary charges could pop up from unusual locations to avoid having the card shut down.

For additional protection, consider a consumer fraud monitoring service. LifeLock offers it for a $9.99 monthly fee.

CreditKarma offers a free service that gives you access to your credit scores and reports from the TransUnion and Equifax credit reporting agencies. You also get weekly updates on account activity that can help you spot card and identity theft.

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