In this digital age, information has become a valuable commodity. Data, such as credit card information, is particularly vulnerable to would-be cyberthieves, but you can minimize the risk of being their next victim by becoming aware of some of the more common ways that criminals seek to obtain your credit data and how to protect yourself.
If your credit/debit card has an embedded microchip, it uses RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. This puts it potentially at risk for hacking through the use of any wireless RFID scanning devices nearby. This means that your credit card information can be stolen while your card is still in your purse or wallet while in a public place.
The good news is that these scanning devices are not difficult to block. RFID-blocking wallets or credit card sleeves, such as this option from Radix One, are relatively inexpensive and easy to locate online and in stores. Using one of these products can bring you a greater feeling of security and peace of mind.
Using your card at an ATM or at a gas pump presents another opportunity for criminals to access your credit information through the use of skimming devices. Skimmers are designed to look exactly like the card swipe reader on a point-of-sale terminal or ATM. They are placed over the real slot and transmit information from your card's magnetic strip. Thieves install them on the machine, and return later to retrieve the devices that now contain the financial and credit information that has been obtained through daily transactions.
Some types of skimmers also include a fake keypad that covers the true keypad on the ATM or sale terminal to 'capture' your keystrokes, as well as a small camera that records you entering your PIN number.
Protect yourself against skimming by first examining ATM and point-of-sale terminals before you insert your card. Report anything that looks unusual or out of place. Tug on the card reader slot of the machine. Skimmers detach relatively easily, but a true slot reader will remain stable if you pull on it. If the keypad is unresponsive, or the keys seem difficult to press, remove your card and find another machine to use.
Like most people today, you probably use a computer, tablet or smartphone on a daily basis. Spyware, or malware (malicious software) is software that is designed by hackers and transferred via websites, email attachments and other downloads. Malware not only transmits computer viruses, it also is used by cybercriminals to monitor your keystrokes to obtain passwords and account information and take screenshots of your online activity.
Although avoiding the use of public computers can be one way to minimize risk, the best defense against this type of threat is to invest in a reliable anti-virus and/or anti-malware application and have it installed on all of your personal devices.
One of the most common ways thieves attempt to access your credit information is to contact you via email, phone or text. An individual pretends to be a representative from an organization where you have your account, such as your bank or other card-issuer. They will likely say they are from the 'fraud department,' claim there has been a 'breach' and tell you that your information may have been compromised. They then will try to convince you to 'verify' your account number, password, etc. to check it against the records that they have on file.
Protect yourself by remember that no legitimate company or financial organization will ever do this. Under no circumstances should you ever provide this information to someone who calls you. You should also not reply to or click any link in an email that requests this type of information. Unless you have reached out to your financial institution or credit card provider and initiated a call for customer service regarding your account, you should avoid sharing this information.
Stealing Account Documentation
Retrieving discarded credit billing statements and other documentation that contains credit card numbers from the trash may be 'low-tech,' but it is still a popular way for criminals to obtain your credit card information.
To protect yourself, invest in a shredder for home use, or even simpler, be sure to obscure credit account numbers and other sensitive information on documents, bills and receipts with an opaque, black permanent ink marker before discarding them in the garbage.
Although there may be a good chance that your credit card information won't fall into the wrong hands, to assume that it will never happen to you is irresponsible in the modern age. Credit card theft and fraud is a crime, but it is largely preventable in many cases. Remember to stay alert in instances where your credit information may be vulnerable and take the necessary precautions to make it difficult for criminals to take advantage of you,