How to protect yourself from credit card fraud

Credit card fraud is a major threat. In order to protect yourself from credit card fraud, there are several things you can do, such as: keeping your personal information secret, checking your statements frequently, not letting your card out of your sight, and being vigilant at all times (including online).

6 min read
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The four most common credit card scams

If you have a credit card, you want to keep it safe. See our list of the most common credit card scams to help you spot and avoid them.

1. Shoulder surfing

Shoulder surfing can happen when you take cash out with your credit card. The scammer watches you enter your PIN into a cash machine and then steals your card details. They can go on a spending spree with your money before you’ve even noticed anything is wrong.

Make sure you carefully cover the ATM’s PIN pad with your hand when you enter your details, even if nobody is around you. Sometimes thieves zoom in on peoples’ PINs from a distance using a camera. The scammer might steal your card from your bag or pocket after recording your PIN.

A sophisticated version of shoulder surfing is when a fake card holder is slotted into the machine right where you enter your card. The thief wants you to think that the machine has swallowed your card so that you ask them to watch the cash machine while you go into the bank to report it. Then they’ll be free to take your card when it pops out.

If you need help in this situation, consider asking someone to go into the bank for you instead, then you can stand watch over the ATM yourself.

2. Skimming

Skimming is another way that your credit card details can be taken. It usually happens in a restaurant or bar where a member of staff takes your card to process the payment. They run your card through a ‘skimmer,’ which is a machine that takes your card details down. The scammer can then use your credit card details to make online purchases without needing your PIN.

Avoid this happening to you by never letting your card out of your sight. If you’re at a restaurant you can ask the card machine to be brought to you instead. If this isn’t possible, go with the member of staff to the card machine.

3. Email and text scams

Fraudsters use email and text scams called ‘phishing,’ where they send you an email pretending to be your bank or credit card provider. You’re asked to provide them with your credit card details, (usually they pretend this will prove your identity), which they can then use to make purchases.

It’s unlikely that any of your financial providers will ask you for personal details over text or email because that just isn’t safe.

A bank may ask you security questions to verify your identity, but they definitely won’t ask you for your card details or PIN. If you are unsure about any text or email, don’t reply, and call the financial provider who allegedly sent the email (using the number on the back of your card or their official website).

4. Phone scams

Phone scams are similar to email and text scams. You receive a phone call from somebody pretending to represent your bank or credit card provider. They ask you for your card details and scam you.

The best way to keep yourself safe from phone scams is to never give out card information over the phone unless you have called your financial provider directly. Even then, your provider will most likely ask security questions instead of card details to verify your identity. They should never ask for your PIN.

The top five tips to prevent credit card fraud

Preventing credit card fraud is simple with our top five tips:

1. Don’t hand out personal information

Make sure that you don’t hand out personal information to anybody, especially if they ask for your PIN or security details. Keep your personal account details safe by never writing them down and shred your old cards and letters you get containing secure information.

Don’t give your account details to anyone who contacts you. If you ring your credit card provider, make sure you call the number on the back of your card or on their official website. This way, you can be sure it’s really them you’re talking to.

2. Check statements frequently

While some fraudsters rely on a lucky guess, others are using far more sophisticated techniques. You may therefore not even realise that you have fallen victim to a scam.

That’s why it’s so important to check your credit card statements regularly to make sure there’s no suspicious activity on your account. If there is, contact your financial provider straight away and ask them to check it for you. Your card provider should be able to cancel your card to stop any further fraudulent activity. Then they’ll arrange for a new card to be sent to you within a few days, so you won’t have to go without it for long.

It’s particularly important to check your statement if you regularly make contactless payments. Because these payments are made offline, they may not show up on your statement straight away.

Being offline means that if your card is stolen, a thief may even be able to continue to spend on it for a few days before you notice any suspicious transactions. Luckily, some card providers will get in touch with you if they spot this sort of activity. They should also provide you with a refund if you report any suspicious activity on your statement (if it wasn’t caused by gross negligence). 

Tip: It’s also worth checking your credit report on a regular basis in case you spot any accounts that you don’t recognise. It can be a sign of fraud. This is important because if a scammer has started spending in your name, it can harm your credit score and leave you out of pocket.

3. Don’t let your card out of your sight

If you let your card out of your sight, somebody could steal it or you could become a victim of skimming. With skimming, you might not even know that you’ve been a victim of fraud until after the money leaves your account. 

It’s best practice to keep your card in a safe place at home (unless you’re planning on using it). Don’t let it out of your sight when you’re out and about.

4. Be careful online

You wouldn’t give your credit card details to just anybody, would you? However, if you use your credit card to spend online while you’re logged into a public Wi-Fi network, there’s a chance that anybody could get hold of them. Not all open networks are protected by encryption. This means that someone else who logs on to that network may be able to see what information you’ve entered during your web browsing. If this includes your card details, your account could be at risk. 

Internet shopping has become an increasingly popular and convenient way to spend, making it a target for fraudsters.

Using the same password for all your accounts puts you at a far greater risk of falling victim to fraud. All the thief has to do is guess one password and they have access to all your accounts.

So, make sure you use a different password for every account you open, and that the password you choose is hard to guess. Generally, the longer it is and the more different characters you have (for example, a combination of upper and lower-case letters and numbers), the better. 

5. If it sounds too good to be true…

If a deal sounds too good to be true, then unfortunately it probably is. Online scammers can lure their victims in by promising them unrealistically cheap deals. Before you hand over your credit card details to a retailer, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is this deal realistically what I would expect to pay?
  • Have I heard of this retailer before?
  • Are they asking me to pay on a trusted, secure web page?

If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ to any of these questions, it’s better not to follow through with the purchase in case it is a scam.

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