How to Protect Yourself Against Credit Card Fraud

Credit cards chained up with padlockCredit card fraud can cost you a lot of time and money. I know this is a big surprise, right? But how much can it actually cost you? A LOT. In fact, it is estimated that credit card fraud costs consumers and businesses $190 billion every year. Although these tips are basic and straightforward, here are a few necessary and essential steps to protect yourself against the headaches of stolen credit card information and fraud.

Physical Security

Basic, right? This is the easiest way to have your credit card information stolen and for someone to then use it to make fraudulent purchases: physical theft of your card. Make sure you keep track of your cards and secure them properly. All too often we get replacement cards in the mail, toss them in a drawer, glove box, or other unsecured location, and then forget about them. Keeping track of all of your cards can be challenging these days, but doing so could not be any more important in an increasingly cash-less society. So keep any eye on every single card you own, even the ones you don’t use. Shred the ones you have no use for, and secure the ones you use every once in awhile, and keep a watchful eye on the ones you use regularly.

Only Use Your Card On Trustworthy Sites

HTTPSNo doubt you’re rolling your eyes at this recommendation. But consider this: it is estimated that consumers lose approximately $29 million every quarter on fraudulent websites. $29 million! So if you’re buying something online (aren’t we all?), make sure you’re buying from a site you trust. There are a few special security measures of note. First and foremost, make sure the site you’re buying from is the site you think it is; you don’t want to enter all of your personal data on a convincing mock-up. Be sure to double-check the URL and only access the site through a clean link. Never enter your data on a site you reached via a link from an unfamiliar or redirected source.

And make sure you watch to make sure you’re connected via HTTPS when transferring data, to avoid having the information stolen as it passes to the site. You can confirm this by looking up by the address bar on your browser; it should show a lock symbol, say Secure, or simply note ‘HTTPS’ if you’re connected safely.

Dispose of Documents Carefully

Anything with your credit card number on it–or any personal identifying information for that matter–needs to be thoroughly destroyed. That means shredding, burning, or something equally destructive. You don’t want to have your credit card information found by someone digging through your trash—it’s a more popular approach to identity theft than you might realize. So suck it up and go buy a decent shredder for $25. Or dig one out of a dumpster. Unless you’re living on another planet, there’s no reason not to use a shredder every single day in order to keep your financial information safe. As the old saying goes, “You should ‘Enron’ as much stuff as possible to stay safe these days.” Shred it, burn it, or destroy it. Whatever it takes.

Upgrade to a Chip Card

Credit Card With Gold ChipCredit cards with microchips are inherently safer to use than those without; these have been in use in Europe for over a decade. If you haven’t already upgraded to a chip card, it’s time to look into your options; many banks and credit card companies have already made the leap. Some complain that chips take longer to process while checking out at stores in the U.S., but studies show that transactions take only 1 second longer, or less. Either way, the added security that chips offer far outweigh having to wait in line a few moments longer at Target. If your bank still hasn’t yet made the switch to the chip, call your old-school savings and loan and tell them to get on it.

Stay Alert

Credit card skimmer

There are a few credit card fraud schemes that can slip right past you if you’re not looking for them, but they will become pretty obvious as long as you stay alert to anything usual. This includes watching for card skimmers, special reading devices installed on gas pumps and ATM’s that steal your data. There has been a significant rise in the use of card skimmers in the U.S. over the last few years, and this trend will likely continue. Every time you stop at the gas station to fill your tank or at the ATM to grab some cash, take a few moments to double check the card swiping device.  You’ll also want to watch for other simple scams, such as getting you to sign a credit card receipt without a verified amount on it.

Report Lost Cards and Suspicious Activity Immediately

Report LostSad but true, but sometimes you can’t completely avoid exposure to fraud. If you can’t find your credit card, if you see a purchase you don’t remember, or if anything suspicious occurs with your card, follow it up as soon as possible. Yes, calling credit card companies is arguably the worst task on earth, but lost or missing cards should be reported to the issuer immediately, without hesitation. For suspicious charges, be sure to investigate and contest any charges if necessary, and then (possibly) request a new card. The sooner you contact your credit card company (and hold on the line for an hour), the sooner you will have suspicious and fraudulent charges resolved.


Adam Quirk, MBA & MCJ

Adam Quirk, MCJ & MBA, has extensive experience in the criminal justice field, as well as advanced degrees in Criminal Justice (MCJ) and Business Administration (MBA).

How To Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft On Social Media

Providing information about ourselves online is part and parcel of modern life. Social media channels are almost unavoidable, and yet worryingly the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp provide nasty hackers with a readymade menu of information about our interests, whereabouts and daily schedule of activities.

So how can you and your loved ones protect yourselves? This is what you need to know about staying safe online:

1. Be Smart About Passwords

Cell Phone on KeyboardRemembering all our passwords can feel like a full-time job! But taking password protection seriously is important. Having something as simple as 1234 or ‘password’ is leaving you wide open to identity theft. So when using social media sites be sure to set them up with a variety of passwords that include upper case and lower case letters as well as at least one number.

If you’re worried about remembering them all, sign up with a password manager like 1Password. That way they are all securely stored in one handy place. Disabling any auto-logins is also a really smart idea. As well as meaning you’re more likely to remember your passwords, it also makes it harder for your information to be stolen.

2. Not Everyone is Your Friend

Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t recognize and be especially careful about opening links; even from people that you are connected with. Their personal security may well have been compromised, and you could be being lured into the same trap. So check the content of every message before clicking.

3. Remember Nothing is Private

privacyWhatsApp or Snapchat may feel like private conversations but they aren’t! You wouldn’t shout out your checking account details or Social Security Number to people on the street, and you should consider that conversations on messenger apps are exactly the same.

4. Turn Off Location Based Settings

When an app or website asks to know your location be sure to decline. That way hackers can’t track your whereabouts and use this information against you. The same goes for tagging yourself in places on the likes of Instagram and Facebook.

5. Tidy Up Old Profiles

You may no longer use your Myspace account but that doesn’t mean it can’t be found and the information used to build a picture about you. So log back in and close any profiles that aren’t in active use.

6. Check Out Your Privacy Settings

Social MediaIt’s pretty normal for social media sites to opt you in to lax privacy settings, so it’s a smart idea to go in and take a look at how accessible you are to online perpetrators. Make your accounts private or inaccessible to anyone but friends.

7. Monitor Your Children’s Social Media Activity

Children are using social media sites younger and younger these days, so it’s important to have a handle on the apps and websites they are accessing. Warn them about revealing personal information and that people may not always be who they say they are online. Hackers will often target children given that they are more likely to offer up information about themselves.


Adam Quirk, MBA & MCJ

Adam Quirk, MBA & MCJ, is a criminal justice professional from Wisconsin, as well as a licensed private investigator, true crime blog writer, and world traveler.

5 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft During Tax Season

EconEdLink-748-File-TaxesAccording to the IRS, approximately 122 million people in the U.S. pay some type of income tax every year. Of those, well over 50% pay their taxes at home, using online services like H&R Block or TurboTax. As a result, millions of people become potential victims of identity theft and other online crimes every year. Doing your own taxes is a great way to save money and stay on top of your financial situation, but it is important to protect yourself as well as your personal data. The information you enter on your tax return could give identity thieves the keys to your financial kingdom, and the ability to wreak havoc with your personal and financial life. Before you fill out a single line on your 1040 form, you need to prepare yourself and your computer. Here are five simple ways to protect your personal data and make tax season safer.

16313727587_c3178dbf54_oCreate a strong password for your tax software. This sounds like a no-brainer, but the password you use to protect your tax return should be the strongest of any of your accounts, so take plenty time to think it out and make sure your personal information is as secure as possible. Avoid whole words; those are easy for password-cracking programs to crack. Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters, and make your password as long as the program permits. You should also make sure your tax return password is unique; do not use the same password, or any variant, anywhere else on the web. “YourName123” and “CurrentMonth123” are examples of unacceptable passwords. Check out these password managers to help you create and manage all of your crucial passwords.

401044-securityUpdate your security software. Now is the time to make sure your security software is running properly, and that it is up to date. Run a full system scan on your computer to make sure there are no viruses lurking in the background. Install the latest virus signature updates and make sure everything is up to date before you proceed with your tax return. Make sure your security software is set to update automatically, and check the dates to make sure those updates are happening. Free programs like Avast and AVG can be easily installed on your system, and they will protect your computer from viruses that can ultimately steal your personal information.

3933622047_54084db216_oSecure your wireless network. If you have a wireless network in your home, make sure it is properly locked down, with a strong password and updated security software. Check the security settings on your router and other Wi-Fi equipment, and verify the security of the password before you do any work on your tax return. Again, having a strong password for your wireless router seems like a no-brainer, but a shocking number of people–approximately 79%–do not take the appropriate time to properly configure and secure their routers as soon as they take them out of the box.

irs-scamBe aware of IRS scams. Over the last few years, people have lost millions of dollars and had their identities stolen through multiple IRS scams. The danger does not end after your tax return has been completed. You should educate yourself about potential IRS scams and other dangers, so check the headlines, continuously monitor IRS.gov for scam warnings and alerts, and keep your ears open, particularly during tax season. Always remember that the IRS does not contact taxpayers via email or on the telephone. And they will never demand that you make a payment immediately over the phone. The IRS still communicates with taxpayers the old fashioned way: via U.S. mail. If you receive an email or phone call (or even worse, a text message) purporting to be from the IRS, rest assured it is a scam. Do not provide them with any identifying information or payment whatsoever, no matter what. You should report any potential scams to the IRS, your local police department, or contact the news media to spread the word so others are not victimized.

creditreportcreditscore_iStockphotoCheck your credit report. Take the time to review your credit report at least once annually. As an American consumer, you’re allowed one free copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Better yet, it is best to request one copy from each bureau at different times throughout the year. Doing so will make it easy to monitor your credit in order to see if any unusual accounts have been opened in your name. Monitoring your credit will illustrate every account you have open, the credit limits of each account, as well as the activity (or inactivity) of every account.

Tax time is scary enough with the ever-present threat of audit and the constant confusion surrounding future tax policy. In that environment, the last thing you want is to let your tax return become a threat to your security. The tips listed above can keep you safe and keep your private information out of the wrong hands.