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What Is Credit Card Fraud?

Credit card fraud is the unauthorized use of another person’s credit card—or card information—to make purchases or access funds through cash advances using the victim’s account.

How does credit card fraud happen?

It’s clear that people like to use credit cards. In fact, credit cards have replaced debit cards as the most preferred payment form, according to a 2016 survey by payment processing firm TSYS. Forty percent of U.S. consumers preferred credit cards. And it only makes sense that the more something is used, the more likely it is to be abused. That certainly applies to credit cards.

Here are some common ways fraudsters can put their hands on your credit card number:

  • A thief digs through your trash, finds discarded receipts or credit card statements that include your account number, and uses that information to rack up fraudulent charges.
  • An unscrupulous waiter steals your card number and uses it to finance, say, a Caribbean vacation.
  • An identity thief lures you to a fraudulent website where he tricks you into providing your card number. The thief then uses your credit card information for fraudulent purchases.

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What’s your legal liability when someone makes fraudulent charges on your credit card account? The law protects you fairly well. The Fair Credit Billing Act says the most you have to pay for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If you lose your card and report its loss before someone else uses it, the law says you’re not responsible for unauthorized charges. If someone steals your credit card number—but not the card itself—you’re not liable at all.

4 tips to help protect yourself from credit card fraud

In 2015, three-quarters of Americans carried at least one credit card, and the number of credit card transactions reached 33.8 billion with a value of $3.16 billion. With so many cards and all that activity, it’s no wonder criminals have seized upon the credit card industry as a place to make a quick buck. Fortunately, you can help minimize your risk of credit card fraud by protecting your cards and card information. Here are four tips to help you do just that:

  1. Promptly and carefully review every credit card statement. When your bill arrives, don’t just make the payment. Review each transaction, and if any are unfamiliar, immediately call the card issuer. Even better, don’t wait for the statement. Regularly review your transactions online on the card issuer's website.
  2. Protect your account information. Don’t leave account information out in the open where others might see it.
  3. Destroy old statements. When you finish with the monthly statement, shred it before discarding it.
  4. Carry only the cards you need. If you have more than one credit card, do you need to have more than one when you’re out and about or traveling? Reduce your risk, by leaving unneeded cards at home.

Online shopper? Stay safe

While shopping online is much safer than sending your credit card number through the mail, there are still precautions you should take when it comes to electronic transactions. 

  • Be sure that any page that asks you to enter credit card or other personal information has “https” in the address bar (the “s” means secure). Remember, “https” not just “http”.
  • Avoid “phishing” scams. These can come in the form of emails that look legitimate but are actually from fraudsters representing themselves as banks, retailers, and other businesses. By clicking on a link in a phishing email, you may be falling into the scammer’s trap. To be safe, type the URL yourself, rather than clicking on an emailed link.
  • Don’t provide any personal information, including a credit card number, unless you initiated the contact. Legitimate businesses will not reach out, asking for your credit card number without a valid reason.

Shopping with credit cards is both familiar and convenient. With a little extra effort, it can also be relatively safe.

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