In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we're taking a deep dive into credit card security. We consulted Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified, a leading source of online background checks and contact information. We sat down with Justin to get his insider tips on how credit card users - especially those who are new to using a credit card - can avoid getting scammed. From knowing what a skimmer is and how to avoid them, to top ways thieves nab your credit card information and pull off scams, Justin has excellent tips to help you safeguard and secure your credit account and identity, and save you from significant loss in time, money and, most importantly, your sanity.
RT: Recently, credit card scams seem to have become more common. They can be easy to fall into and very difficult to get out of. What are your top tips for recognizing and avoiding credit card scams?
JL: First off, you've got to know that financial scams and personal identity theft are common crimes that happen to smart adults every day. No one is immune. So guarding your personal information like a hawk is key to avoid becoming compromised.
A scammer will use your personal information to open up credit card accounts, steal your information to make unwarranted purchases, sign up for services, and more. So here are some really important ways to block out the scammers:
- Never list email addresses or phone numbers on your social media pages.
- Don't open attachments in emails or click on links if you don't know the sender, and even if you do, be diligent to make sure it is indeed the person you know sending the request (vs. someone that has hacked their account).
- Only reliable institutions you know you have an account or business with will request your social security number and will offer a secure way to provide it. Strictly limit who gets that number.
- Keep credit card numbers, PIN numbers, and other financial information carefully guarded, both online and in the physical world.
RT: Aside from online, how else and where do credit card scams commonly happen?
JL: Many data or identity thefts take place at the point of sale, as opposed to a database breach, which means that all of your card information is being captured, including the verification codes. And the methods used can be as unsophisticated as someone standing beside you at the front desk of a hotel or at a bar and capturing your information and your PIN on their smartphone.
Skimmers or "credit card skimmers" are devices that are used to record the information from your credit card's magnetic strip. The device is generally deployed by criminals who are seeking to steal your card information to either sell the information or use it to make purchases.
Skimmers are usually deployed in areas that have limited or no attendant supervision. It is advisable to avoid gas pumps, ATMs, or vending machines that are in secluded areas and are not serviced regularly.
Never use a debit card at a self-service location. Debit cards have less forgiving fraud rules and are usually tied directly to your checking account. Money taken can be hard to get back. And if you have to use a debit card, always shield the pin pad with your hand when entering pin numbers. If a skimmer has been installed, there is probably a camera close by recording or trying to capture pin number inputs.
RT: Are there any ways you can tell if there's a skimmer at work?
JL: Whenever you use a credit card reader, it is smart to inspect the device first. Look at the machine for scratches, ill-fitting parts or seals -- jiggle the machine, as well as the pin pad or credit card insert. Most gas pumps, ATMs or vending machines are manufactured to be secure. Broken seals or loose parts may be an indication that the machine has been breached and a skimmer has been installed.
Most skimmers use Bluetooth technology, so a way to detect a skimmer is to use your smartphone. Turn on the Bluetooth pairing and then see how many odd things pop up. It might just alert you to a skimmer.
RT: Don't most credit cards protect your card so you're not responsible for purchases you don't make? And if that's the case, why should someone be concerned about getting scammed?
JL: While most credit cards offer some measure of protection against this kind of fraud so that you aren't responsible for charges that aren't yours, it's still a huge aggravation to have to deal with the issue. Going through and verifying all your recent transactions, dealing with a maxed out card that leaves you with no credit until it is resolved, having your card cancelled by the bank after suspected fraud and the time lag until another arrives, and so on - all are massive hassles you'd rather avoid.
RT: Is there anything we can do to protect our account and personal information?
JL: Absolutely! I'll tell you my top pieces of advice for anyone, but especially new card users:
1. Be diligent and keep a close eye on your credit card statements.
Thieves will often steal information but then not use it for months. Also make sure that you use the safety features of your card, such as text and email alerts when charges come through. This will immediately let you know and makes it much easier to notify your credit card company promptly if your account is compromised.
2. Change passwords and PINs.
If you can, change your passwords or PINs regularly. If any of your data was obtained fraudulently, it will be of more limited use to a thief without all the important PIN codes.
3. Follow-up on unexpected notifications.
Two sure signs that your accounts are being targeted: if you get a message that you have a password reset request or that you've been locked from an online account because of too many attempts to login.
4. Regularly check your credit card accounts and credit reports.
Online banking tools make it easy to keep tabs on all of your financial accounts. It's important to monitor your account balances, as compromised card numbers can happen at any time. Likewise, regular credit checks will help you to spot suspicious activity as it comes up and help you take action without delay.
5. Monitor your name.
While many people check their credit reports to potentially identify misuse of their details, they usually stop short of running a full self-background check. This can reveal information incorrectly associated with your identity that could have been the work of an impostor.
6. Pay attention to your credit card statements.
Some signs that may alert you that you have been hacked or someone has taken control of your financial identity are inconsistent statements - you don't get them regularly or at all. Another sign is various charges on your statement that don't belong to you. Being denied credit when you have never had a problem obtaining credit before can be an additional red flag that your identity has been compromised.
RT: Any final words of wisdom for credit card users?
JL: Many banks, insurance companies and even some employers offer identity monitoring services for a nominal fee. These services offer real time monitoring of your personal information. This type of service can stop an identity or account breach as soon as the inquiry is made and then assist you and/or resolve the fraudulent activity and consequences for you. Having a service like this not only offers peace of mind, but in an ever expanding world of technology, they can be just as critical in a major occurrence as your insurance is for your health.