Protecting Your Credit Card Numbers

Allison Martin
Protected Credit Cards

Protecting your credit card numbers is more important now than ever. In this information age, the use of credit cards is convenient not only for the cardholder, but also for individuals looking to get their hands on credit card numbers. Keep others from picking your electronic pocket by protecting your information.

Retain Your Receipts

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act mandates the omission of all credit card information from receipts, with the exception of the last five digits. However, if you have ever left a credit card receipt in your shopping bag or walked away from a gas pump without removing the receipt from the machine, it's easy to see how criminals can get their hands on a portion of your credit card numbers. Fraudsters may attempt to obtain additional information from you via an automated telephone request simply by posing as the credit card issuer. Typically, the recording will request that you enter more data about the card number that ends in the four digits that they mention.

Request a Receipt

Don't consider a transaction complete until you personally receive a receipt. When you get home, file all receipts in a safe place until the bill arrives. There's no need to carry the receipts around with you, and purchase reconciliation and verification will be a breeze.

Gratuity Lines

If there is space remaining on the receipt for gratuity, be sure to populate or cross out the section so that no additional expenses can be added to the bill. It is also important to note that skimming can occur at restaurants because the handheld device used to perpetrate the crime can be easily concealed in the server's apron pocket, according to Privacy Sense.net.

Alternate Payment and Mail Suggestions

Online bill payment provides consumers with a timesaving alternative, as well as another means of protecting credit card numbers. Customers review credit card statements online and establish automatic bank drafts for electronic payment. This method reduces the need for mailed statements and check payments.

A Safe Alternative

TopTenReviews notes that online bill pay is a much safer alternative considering that a vast majority of identity theft occurs as a result of mail theft. Since paper statements contain sensitive account information, they also pose the risk of exposing your credit card information. This strengthens the case to receive statements and conduct account maintenance, such as bill payment, online.

Some have concerns about handling so many financial issues online. If you're worried about neighborhood mail theft but aren't ready to handle bill payments online, consider getting a post office box for financial mail delivery and drop bills off at the post office instead of placing them in your home's mailbox to wait for the postal carrier.

Online Transactions

In some instances, computers will store login information, such as usernames and passwords, for select websites. If you make purchases or remit payments online, be sure to delete your browsing history to ensure that subsequent users will not have access to your account information. According to Gizmo's Freeware, this can be done rapidly by selecting Ctrl+Shift+Del on the keyboard.

Look for Encryption

Also, refrain from inputting your credit card information into any website form unless it is encrypted and secured to prevent hackers from obtaining your information. To confirm that a website is encrypted, OnGuardOnline.gov states that you should look for "https" at the beginning of the web address. The same principle applies to wireless networks.

Your personal computer should also be equipped with the latest security program to protect against malware, which is a malicious software designed to gather sensitive and often confidential information.

Once you have completed your transaction, be sure to print electronic copies of the receipt and review once the statement arrives to ensure that the amounts billed to your credit card are correct.

Unattended Items

It may be convenient to leave your personal belongings at your work desk, in the computer lab or in the library with classmates while you take a quick bathroom break. Unfortunately, there are several dishonest people who will steal your credit cards without thinking twice. Keep your credit cards with you, or keep them securely at home if you won't need them while you are out.

Protect Your PIN Number

When conducting transactions that require the use of a PIN number, such as a cash advance withdrawal, always be aware of your surroundings. Use your hand to cover the keypad that you use to enter the four-digit identification code in case others are standing nearby. In addition, do not record your PIN number in an unsecured location and store any correspondence from your financial institution that discloses your PIN number in a safe place.

Avoid Predictability

You should also refrain from using birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or any other sequence of predictable digits when establishing your PIN. A recent study from Data Genetics noted that 11% of all PINs are 1234 and all other unique combinations were guessed in 20 attempts or less by hackers.

According to Lifehacker, predictable PIN numbers also increase the window of opportunity for identity thieves, especially if they steal your wallet and easily gain access your personal information.

Imprint Machines

Select merchants use imprint machines to collect credit card data if they do not have an electronic payment processing system. Jamie May, chief investigator at AllClear ID, noted in an article that transactions conducted using imprint machines are extremely risky because it opens up a large window of opportunity for credit card fraud as there is no way of knowing how the credit card information will be used once it is retrieved by the merchant.

Therefore, it may be wise to remit payment using cash in the event that a sales representative that you conduct business with uses this mechanism due to the risks associated with exposing your credit card number.

ATMs

The Financial Fraud Action of the UK noted in a report that credit card theft via ATM has tripled in the past year. Common credit card fraud that occurs as a result of ATMs include skimming and card hacking by free-standing ATMS. In some instances, standby perpetrators encourage the cardholder to repeatedly attempt to use the out of order machine in order to record data on a device installed within the card reader. To reduce the likelihood of being victimized by these scams, avoid freestanding ATMs and those with suspicious card readers.

Refuse the Bait of Phishing Scams

Phishing has become more aggressive in the past few years as scam artists develop more innovative ways to dupe consumers. A recent report released by the Press Trust of India noted a steep increase of 87% in phishing scams worldwide over the past year.

These con artists have constructed more elaborate "spoof sites" that closely resemble a website you trust, such as your bank or another frequented site, and request your credit card numbers, account information, Social Security numbers and other personal data through dummy e-mail accounts.

Remember:

  • Call the institution in question directly to ask if they need an account update.
  • Don't follow links presented in e-mail. Instead, if you have a concern, go online to the originating site and log into your account.
  • To guarantee you are protecting your credit card numbers and other personal financial information, never communicate any of that via e-mail.

Also be aware that e-mail isn't the only way con artists phish for information. If someone unexpected calls your phone claiming to be from your bank or credit card institution and requests account information, don't provide it. Ask for the toll-free customer service number, verify it against a statement, then call the number on the statement and talk with a representative.

Purchase Verification

From time to time, credit card companies will call to verify recent customer purchases that may seem unusual to a traditional buying pattern. On these types of calls, legitimate companies will clearly identify themselves and ask if you made a particular purchase on a certain date for a specified amount - they never ask for account information.

This might happen if you travel or make a large purchase, such as a computer or big screen TV or fancy shoes from an overseas distributor. Think of this as good neighbor service, as they are as concerned with protecting your credit card numbers as you are.

Use Common Sense

There is not, nor will there ever be, a prince in Nigeria handing out money like lollipops if only you first give him your credit card number. So remember, any unsolicited requests for your credit card numbers by others are suspect. Here are a few other helpful tips for protecting your credit card numbers:

  • Don't sign credit or debit slips without an amount listed, and mark an X or draw a line through any blank areas.
  • Make sure the online merchant is secure and refuse options for the site to retain credit card information for future purchases.
  • Don't write your credit card number on the outside of the bill envelope when returning payment.
  • If you're responsible for a lot of credit cards for yourself or other cardholders in the family, consider a registration service like Privacy Guard. For a nominal fee, this service will report lost or stolen credit cards and request replacement cards. However, review fees carefully and read the fine print regarding their services and your liability.

What to Do if Credit Card Fraud Happens

After all this effort to ensure you're protecting your credit card numbers, it's possible you may still end up a victim. Call your issuers immediately if your credit cards are lost or stolen, or the numbers are somehow acquired by someone else. Most credit card companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with these emergencies.

You will not be held responsible for the unauthorized charges if you report the theft according to the regulations of the credit card issuer. Additionally, contact the store or online service at which the fraudulent charges were made, as their security teams are typically eager to rectify criminal situations.

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Protecting Your Credit Card Numbers