This holiday season brings numerous financial challenges to virtually all Americans: the severe housing slump, a declining stock market, high unemployment, and even the realistic possibility of one of the worst recessions in decades.
When economic times are tough, you can count on criminals to look for new opportunities to make quick cash at the expense of the hard-working consumer.
One of the ways these thieves will try to make extra money is with credit card fraud and scams.
Thieves will go through trash to find discarded receipts or other records, and then uses account numbers illegally.
For instance, a dishonest clerk makes an extra imprint from your credit or charge card and uses it to make personal charges.
Or perhaps, you respond to a mailing asking you to call a long distance number for a free trip or bargain-priced travel package. You're told you must join a travel club first and you're asked for your account number so you can be billed. The catch! Charges you didn't make are added to your bill, and you never get your trip.
These three scenarios, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), are just a few examples of how criminals might try to rip you off using your credit card information.
Credit card fraud, in fact, costs honest consumers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. While it not always possible to stop a lawbreaker from ripping you off, here are some good points from the FTC to help make it more difficult for a crook to do so.
You should do the following:
1. Sign your cards as soon as they arrive.
2. Carry your cards separately from your wallet.
A Quick Security Tip: You may consider keeping your credit cards in a zippered compartment, a business card holder, or even in another small pouch.
3. Keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates, and the phone number and address of each card company in a secure place.
4. Keep an eye on your card during the transaction, and get it back as quickly as possible.
5. Void incorrect receipts.
6. Destroy carbons.
7. Save receipts to compare with billing statements.
8. Open bills promptly and reconcile accounts monthly, just as you would your checking account.
9. Report any questionable charges promptly and in writing to the card issuer.
10. Notify card companies in advance of a change in address.
Avoid lending your cards to anyone. Never leave cards or receipts lying around, or sign a blank receipt. And when you sign a receipt, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total. Never write your account number on a postcard or the outside of an envelope.
Never give out your account number over the phone (or online) unless you are making the call to a company you know is reputable.
If you have questions about a company, a smart idea may be to check it out with your local consumer protection office or Better Business Bureau.
What should you do to report a loss and/or fraud?
If you lose your credit card, or if you realize it has been lost or stolen, immediately call the issuer. Many credit card companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to handle such emergencies. If you suspect fraud, you may be asked to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchases in question.
By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges. In any event, your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card.
For more details on credit card fraud prevention, call the FTC toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP or log on to www.ftc.gov.
Just by adhering to the basic tips above, you will make the credit card crook’s job much more difficult. Don’t let some swindler change your credit card plastic into their cash during this wonderful time of the year.
Have a healthy, happy and safe Thanksgiving!
Copyright 2008 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (Mandelblit.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com. This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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