Credit card security

Generally credit cards are a safe and convenient way to pay. But that doesn't mean they are risk-free: credit card fraud is one of the fastest growing - and increasingly sophisticated - criminal acts that the financial services industry has to deal with. It can sometimes seem like there are a host of unscrupulous people trying to gain access to your potentially lucrative piece of plastic. If it happens to you, it's sometimes a hassle that can take a while to sort out. However, unless you've been particularly negligent, your credit card provider is likely to be understanding and you probably won't lose out.

All the same, reading a statement and seeing unfamiliar card transactions is always a nasty shock you'd do better to avoid. So here's a rundown of how to reduce your credit card security risks and what you should look out for.

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"Think of a PIN number as the magic key to where your money is stored"

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Protecting your PIN

Think of a PIN number as the magic key to where your money is stored - and the only place it should be found is in your head. Don't write it down, save it on a computer or share it with anybody. Definitely don't keep it in the same wallet as your plastic. Don't even give it to somebody you trust to run an errand for you. The only person who should know that number is you. And four digits are all you have to remember.

Of course, some people are just hopeless at remembering numbers. So they pick a PIN number that's easily recalled – like ‘1234', a birth date or address number. These are the first numbers a thief will try (and don't assume they don't know basic personal information). It's best to use random numbers that have no obvious sequence and no other association.

What's the magic word?

Just as you shouldn't pick a PIN number that's easy to guess, the same should apply to your password. With this in mind, many credit card issuer websites stipulate certain password creation requirements – a combination of letters, numbers and characters. Whilst it's obviously easier to remember an actual word, it's a much safer to break it up with random, non-alphanumeric insertions (asterisks, exclamation marks, etc.) You should avoid using words that appear in the dictionary, even if you spell them backwards, abbreviate, or misspell them.

As with PIN numbers, don't use personal information - like your name, date of birth or National Insurance number. Avoid using the same password for several different accounts. Once a hacker has guessed one password, they'll often try to see if it works on other accounts.

Don't write it down and especially not on your credit card or store it in the same wallet. And don't have your internet browser remember your credit card password. Someone who steals your computer or phone could access your account very easily.

Change your password periodically, and try not to re-use them – even if it's seems a struggle to keep track of them all. If you believe your password has been compromised, change it immediately.

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"The general rule is to keep your credit card on your person at all times"

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Out and about

The general rule is to keep your credit card on your person at all times. Be wary of handing it over to somebody else who then takes it into a different room. It may well be innocent, but it could also be an opportunity to ‘skim' your card.

Skimming – also known as cloning – is when the fraudsters use an electronic device to steal your card details from its magnetic strip. Once they have this information, they can create a duplicate card with your account details and then run up charges in your name.

Look out if:

  • A shop assistant or waiter takes your card out of your sight in order to process your transaction.
  • You are asked to swipe your card through more than one machine.
  • You see a shop assistant swipe the card through a different machine to the one you used.

If your card is successfully skimmed, often you won't know until mysterious transactions show up on your statement. Thieves tend to start small, so they don't immediately attract attention. Then suddenly the cloned card will pay for something costly and you'll be in for a big shock.

As soon as you notice any payments that can't be accounted for by your shopping habits, tell your credit card provider straight away. They'll go through your statement with you to single out the rogue transactions, freeze your card and maybe set up an alternative account so you're not inconvenienced in the short term. You probably won't have to honour any fraudulent payments, but that doesn't make the experience any less unpleasant.

Cash machine caution

PIN numbers are only intended to be entered into cash dispensing or payment facilities – but the thieves have thought of this too. Some even go to the trouble of installing a fake façade over a real cash machine that might capture you keying in the PIN number, as well as skimming the details on the card.

So if you go to withdraw cash, be on your guard if something about the machine doesn't look quite right (although it can be difficult to spot). And do get into the habit of shielding your hand when you're entering the number, just in case there's a concealed camera or somebody is looking over your shoulder. It may sound paranoid, but better to be safe than sorry.

As you can see, it pays to be alert and aware. Treat your credit cards like they are made of gold – which they are, in a sense. Somebody would love to gain access to your credit, so don't give them the chance.

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Know if you're accepted before you apply with QuickCheck

  • Get credit - up to £1,500
  • QuickCheck won’t affect your credit rating
  • Get a fast response in 60 seconds
Check Now 34.9% APR Representative (variable)
Intelligent Lending Ltd (Credit Broker). Capital One is the exclusive lender

Know if you're accepted before you apply with QuickCheck

  • Get credit - up to £1,500
  • QuickCheck won’t affect your credit rating
  • Get a fast response in 60 seconds
Check Now 34.9% APR Representative (variable)
Intelligent Lending Ltd (Credit Broker). Capital One is the exclusive lender