Fighting Holiday Fraud

You’ve trimmed the tree and hung the stockings on your window with care – but have you done all you can to prevent credit card fraud? In our technology-driven world, fraudsters are more enterprising than ever. Learn the most common holiday scams and how to keep your assets safe this season.

Credit card theft is more common than you think. Even though large companies are increasing budgets to protect consumers, a recent 60 Minutes report revealed that more than 97% of businesses are being breached. Americans spend more money this time of year than any other –some hundreds of billions in the final two months of the year. Now is the time to take steps to protect your financial information.

Know the Common Scams During the Holidays

The majority of credit card theft comes from experienced cybercriminals, who steal tens of thousands of credit card numbers online and trade them in online markets referred to as the “dark web.” The most common route is the point-of-sale attack: Whenever you swipe a credit card, your information is encrypted and uploaded to the internet. Sophisticated hackers can break into the network and leave your information vulnerable.

It doesn’t always take cutting-edge technology. Fraudsters can even steal your credit information over the phone or online by posing as a legitimate company.

Fortunately, we can minimize our chances of fraud by taking some common-sense steps to protect our financial information.

Famous Credit Card Hacks

Do you need extra incentive? Consider this – tens of millions of credit card numbers, yours included, can be at risk at a time. In 2007, discount retailer TJ Maxx and Marshalls discovered hackers had stolen data including 45 million customer credit card numbers. And in the week before Christmas in 2014, Target reported that hackers had stolen 40 million of their card numbers.

In response to these threats, credit card companies have been slowly rolling out chip and PIN cards, which are more secure than using a simple swipe. If you don’t have a chip and PIN card, or just want to take extra steps to protect yourself, heed some basic advice.

Protect Yourself From Fraud

To avoid fraud this holiday season, experts suggest taking some simple actions:

  • Check your account statements. Diligently check your credit card bills and bank account statements for suspicious activity, including transactions for a dollar or less. Fraudsters sometimes make micro-transactions to avoid suspicion.
  • Use credit instead of debit. Credit card companies can clear fraudulent transactions immediately. Banks require an investigation, which is troublesome when you need those funds to pay bills.
  • Immediately contest charges. If you notice something off, don’t procrastinate – contact your financial institution immediately.
  • When you make purchases online, look for a full URL, including the https://. Also check for a padlock icon in the address bar, which means your data is secure.
  • If you use a smartphone to make purchases, make your phone password protected or enact the fingerprint function.
  • Use cash. If you’re still concerned about fraud, use the only medium that’s truly hack proof. You can always reach for the plastic again when the holiday season is over.

Take a Proactive Approach

Financial experts suggest that consumers be aware of their credit history and be proactive in monitoring it. The federal government requires credit-reporting companies to give each person, if requested, a free copy of their credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion each year. Once a year, consumers may visit for access to these reports. You may choose two options: ordering all your reports at once or spacing them out throughout the year.

Once you have access to your reports, scan them for inconsistencies. Request to file a dispute for any items that look suspicious.