Anybody who has carried credit card debt for an extended period of time understands the satisfaction that comes from seeing a $0 balance owed on your accounts.
That’s why I was recently surprised to see this $529 charge on my Southwest Plus credit card.
I haven’t used this card for any transactions for several months (I don’t even carry the card in my wallet), so the new charge stuck out like a sore thumb on my accounts dashboard.
Having a zero-dollar credit card balance hasn’t always been the case for me. I’ve made my fair share of credit card mistakes.
In the past, especially during my college days, I was afraid to log in and see my account balances. After noticing this fraudulent charge, it made me stop and wonder if any similar charges had passed through unnoticed because I was carrying a balance and unwilling to review my purchases line by line.
Although my online banking account didn’t provide a particularly detailed description of the transaction, a quick Google search showed that many others had seen this same type of fraudulent credit card activity.
It’s easy to assume, “Credit card fraud wouldn’t happen to me!”
Sadly, it’s more common than you might think. Just a couple weeks ago, I read how I Dream of FIRE was charged $321 for strange Uber rides that abruptly showed up on one of their cards. According to statistics compiled by CreditDonkey, 46% of Americans have been a victim to credit card fraud in the past 5 years.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the common examples of credit card fraud, how you can resolve the situation if you’ve been scammed, and how you can protect yourself from fraudulent activity in the future.
What are some common examples of credit card fraud?
A criminal doesn’t need to have physical possession of your credit card in order to commit fraud. My Southwest Plus credit card had been collecting dust on a bookshelf for several months before it was used for this suspicious charge.
Here are just a few of the different strategies and tactics a fraudster could use to gain access to your card:
- Card theft: gaining physical possession of the action card
- Compromised accounts: stealing the card number, expiration date, CVV, etc.
- Skimming: using a special machine to record info from the card’s magnetic strip
- Phishing: obtaining card information by pretending to appear as a reputable company
- Social engineering: exploiting private information and human relationships to bypass normal security measures
Often times, a fraudster will start by making a small charge to the credit card to verify they have access to the account.
After that, they may try to either (1) pull a cash advance from the card, (2) purchase items like electronics or jewelry that can be quickly sold for cash, or (3) pay their internet or Uber bill… apparently.
What should you do when you notice credit card fraud?
Thankfully, handling credit card fraud hasn’t been time-consuming or difficult – at least in my personal experience. (Feel free to share any rants and horror stories in the comments!)
I noticed the “Comcast Boston CS 1X” one day after the transaction date. Within two days, the charge had been removed from my account and a new card was in the mail.
Here was the entire process – it only took about two minutes on my part:
- Call the customer support number listed on the back of your credit card
- Explain which credit card transactions were unauthorized
- Agree to have your current card canceled
The customer service agent was very polite and helpful. I thought I might have to explain myself or persuade them about why I wasn’t responsible for the charges… but the agent on the line assured me they would investigate the claims and that I’d receive an email within one to six hours.
If you’ve had one of your primary cards compromised by fraud, this may only be the first step you need to take. Because the bank needs to cancel your current card, you may need to update any subscriptions or recurring payments that were tied to the card.
It will typically take 3-5 business days to send a new card. In the email I received after submitting a claim, I was also encouraged to:
- Destroy any copies of the compromised credit card in my possession
- Continue to make at least the minimum payment on the card
- Review future transactions to watch for other suspicious charges
Within 48 hours, the disputed charge had been removed from my account.
How can I protect myself from fraudulent activity?
Even if challenging an unauthorized credit card transaction on your account is fairly painless, it would, of course, be better to protect yourself from falling victim to this type of activity in the first place.
Here are few different steps – some basic and others a little compulsive – that will help protect you from fraudulent activity.
Opt for credit over debit
Not only do you enjoy perks such as travel rewards or cash back by using a credit card, but most credit card companies offer great fraudulent activity support.
Additionally, had I used a debit card, my checking account balance would have been immediately affected. Instead, I knew I’d have multiple weeks before my credit statement would close and payment would be due.
Watch out for phishing attempts
Use caution when providing credit card information online or over the phone. You should be very suspicious of any inbound phone calls requesting payment information. Verify the legitimacy of emails before clicking on any links contained inside – if your email account is compromised, fraudsters can potentially use your email account to reset banking accounts.
Don’t keep all of your cards in one place
Many of us have just one or two credit cards that we use to make the majority of our purchases. Instead of carrying all of your cards in your purse or wallet, leave the rarely-cards in a safe and secure place at home. In the event that your wallet is stolen, this minimizes the number of cards that could be compromised.
Periodically review your transaction history
At the bare minimum, you should review your credit card transactions when you receive each monthly statement. You may already be doing this as part of your budgeting process, but if not, consider schedule time each month (or more frequently) to review each statement for any unfamiliar activity.
You should be reviewing your credit report a couple times each year as well!
Set up notifications for each transaction
Most banks offer some type of alert systems to help customers monitor their accounts. These alerts can be sent via text message, email, or push notifications. You can typically customize these alerts to be sent if purchases exceed a certain amount.
I’ve set up some of my accounts to send push notifications for any purchase over $0.01, effectively creating an alert for every transaction. While this seems a little redundant for my daily, in-person purchases like meals or groceries, I’ve found it helpful to remain aware of my online/recurring transactions.
Until you’ve become a victim of credit card fraud yourself, it’s easy to assume that it will never happen to you. Fraud is made possible through many different techniques, whether it’s a stolen card or a stolen identity.
There are many steps you can take to minimize the risks of becoming a victim. If you do find yourself impacted by unauthorized activity, realize that while having your accounts compromised is upsetting – even violating – there are safeguards in place to resolve the criminal activity and restore your finances.
Have you experienced credit card fraud? How do you protect your finances from scams?