A few weeks ago, some creep tried to use my credit card number to buy stuff on Amazon — the second time this happened to me in a year.
You probably know this hassle and anxiety. There’s been an explosion in fraudulent purchases made online in the last few years. In most of these cases, thieves only need credit card digits to make a bogus transaction.
I learned two things from discussing my experience with fraud experts: Even if you’re careful, your credit card information will probably be stolen at some point. And we’re mostly on our own to protect ourselves.
We should not accept credit card fraud as inevitable. Even if it never happens to you, the fortune that companies spend on fraud prevention ultimately is reflected in higher costs for everything you buy.
Here are some practical protection tips and thoughts about broader steps to slow runaway fraud.
Sign up for alerts: Fraud experts say the best measure you can take is to sign up for email or phone notifications each time your card is used for a purchase online or over the phone. A barrage of pings is annoying and doesn’t prevent card theft, but it provides a real-time fraud warning. It’s how I caught those two bogus Amazon charges.
Limit the websites where you save card information: It’s not foolproof, but the fewer places where you buy online or save your card numbers, the fewer spots for criminals to hack your personal data. Ragib Hasan, a computer science professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also suggested using PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay or similar options that generate a temporary account number for each transaction.
Be paranoid: Every link in an email or a too-good-to-be-true deal on an unfamiliar website could be trying to trick you to harvest credit card details or other personal information.
Instead of clicking on a link in that email that might (or might not) be from Target, just don’t. “If we all work in unison, it would be a lot tougher for crooks,” said Paul Fabara, Visa’s chief risk officer.
Report the fraudulent charge: Tell both your credit card company and the merchant where the bogus charge was made to prevent the thief from running more stolen credit cards. What about the police? Colin Sims, chief operating officer of fraud-prevention company Forter, said that credit card fraud is so prevalent that law enforcement doesn’t usually pursue it.
Why can’t companies stop this? Software does flag some transactions that seem out of place, but technology is often behind crooks who are getting more sophisticated at making their charges look legitimate.
Is buying online too easy? Some fraud experts said that it would help if the United States adopted rules like those in Europe, which is tightening requirements for a second step — such as fingerprint verification or a one-time passcode — to make some credit card purchases online. Others have said that these extra protections may give people a false sense of security and aren’t worth the frustration for shoppers and higher costs for merchants.