Credit card scams are on the rise, and according to research, the US and Canadian citizens are more likely to be a victim of this crime than those of any other country in the world, with billions lost annually to crooks and fraudsters.
Both individuals and businesses can be at risk of credit card scams, which are now recognized as the most common form of identity fraud – there were half a million cases in the US last year alone. Fortunately, you can take several simple steps to avoid getting caught up in a con – here’s what you need to know.
One of the most common ways that scammers get hold of victims’ credit card details is via cloned or fake websites. These sites may appear totally legit and could even masquerade as a well-known brand’s website but have, in fact, been set up by crooks purely to harvest unsuspecting visitors’ card details.
Avoid this by only buying from trusted sites. To do this, start by looking at the website’s address bar to ensure it’s that of the business you think it is. Scammers deploy tricks such as replacing the odd letter with a special character (such as a $ for an S) so that, at first glance, the website address seems legit.
Also, ensure that the address starts with ‘HTTPS’ rather than just ‘HTTP’ – this indicates that it’s secure and mechanisms are in place to protect your payment and personal details.
How you process customers’ card transactions is crucial for businesses to avoid clients’ details falling into the wrong hands.
Ensure your merchant service provider offers the highest levels of security possible – some are specifically designed for what is considered ‘high-risk’ industries. It’s also vital to ensure that any physical copies of receipts your business holds are kept securely. This means keeping them locked away, ideally in a safe, where they can’t be easily accessed.
A low-tech but extremely effective way to guard against credit card scams is to check your card statements regularly: ideally, once or twice a fortnight.
Many scammers, having gotten hold of your card details, will siphon off very small amounts of money initially, so you’re unlikely to notice. After a while, they may use your card details to make an expensive purchase, potentially clearing out your available funds.
Go through your statements with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything unusual or a payment to a business or individual you don’t recognize. If you spot something suspicious, get in touch with your bank or card issuers immediately to let them know what’s happened.
Scammers don’t just operate in the digital world: it’s important to take steps to ensure the safety of your physical card.
Crooks now have access to devices that can potentially harvest your card details even when it’s safely tucked away in your wallet or a pocket – the scammers simply need to be physically close to you – which can be surreptitiously done while waiting in line to pay, for example, or walking around a busy store.
Now cardholders on the market will block out attempts to read these details – an easy, cost-effective way to guard against fraudsters. Alternatively, although unconfirmed, some suggest wrapping a card in aluminum foil will also have the same protective effect.
Another way scammers can access your credit card is via the devices you use. To prevent being hacked, ensure you not only deploy high-quality virus and malware protection but also update it regularly.
Avoid, too, using public Wifi connections, especially to make purchases. These connections are relatively easy for hackers and snoopers to access, allowing them to get hold of your card and personal details.
Consider using a VPN (a virtual private network) to connect to the internet, which provides a much more secure way to be online and makes even connecting via public Wifi safe.
A VPN works by protecting your device’s IP address and encrypting all internet traffic – even in the unlikely event that a hacker gains access to your data, they won’t be able to interpret it.
Phishing attacks are on the rise and are a common way that con artists commit credit card fraud. Typically, an email is sent to an unsuspecting recipient, often appearing to be from a legit business or brand or possibly from the recipient’s bank. However, when the victim clicks on the link and enters the requested details, they’re actually giving their information to a scammer.
Always be on guard for phishing emails: never click on a link unless you are absolutely sure the message is from who it says it is. Poor spelling, grammar, or layout is a major red flag of a phishing scam, as is an incorrect ‘from’ address. To check the latter, simply hover the mouse over the sender’s name, and see if this matches the company that the message purports to be from.
Around 10% of the adult population in the US falls victim to credit card scams every year – avoid being part of this statistic by taking the relevant steps outlined above to stay safe and secure from fraudsters.