Many people are wary about using their credit cards, especially online, because of the possibility of becoming a victim of fraud. While fraud does happen, and costs hundreds of millions every year, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and make it unlikely that you'll become a victim.
- Online use
The most important rule to follow is to only use your card online at trusted, secure sites. You can recognize a secure site by looking for a yellow padlock symbol appearing in your browser, and also by the address starting with 'https' rather than 'http'. Sites secured like this encrypt all the information sent back and forth to your browser, meaning that it's very dificult indeed for someone to spy out your credit card details.
Also make sure you're confident of the identity of the site asking for your details. Avoid any sites that send you an email asking for your card details - they might not be who they claim to be. It's better to phone the company direct to make sure their request is genuine.
You should never give out your card details in an email, as there is no encryption involved and there's always the danger that a fraudster could intercept your message and gain your details.
Finally in this section, make sure that your virus protection is up to date and that your computer is clean of any 'spyware'.
- Offline use
If at all possible, don't let the card out of your sight when paying, to reduce the opportunity for a fraudster to make a copy of your card. This is easier nowadays with the arrival of the handheld chip and pin input devices that are brought, for example, to your table in a restaurant.
It's advisable not to send card details by fax, as you've no control over how long the fax will be left unattended at the receiving end. A faxed copy of your card number, expiry date, security code and signature makes it altogether to easy for a scammer!
Only give your credit card number over the telephone if it was you who made the call, and you're certain that you're speaking to a genuine person. If someone calls you claiming to be from a company you deal with, and asks for your details, ask for a phone number to call them back on - via a switchboard operator if possible - and verify that the number is correct.
There are several other measures you can take to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of credit card fraud, and most them are pretty much common sense. You should sign any new or replacement cards as soon as you receive them, and cut up the expired cards making sure to cut through the magnetic band on the back.
Never keep your pin numbers written down in your wallet or purse, as if you lose it or it's stolen a fraudster will have both your cards and their pins. Also, report any stolen or lost cards to the issuer immediately, so that they can be cancelled before falling into the wrong hands.
Open your statements and bills as soon as you receive them, and check them carefully for anything you don't recognise. If you spot something you're unsure of, call your card company straight away and ask them for more details. After checking your statements, either file them away somewhere safe, or shred or burn them. Never simply throw them away - they contain far too much valuable information that can be used for fraud purposes.
All this might seem like a lot of work, but remember that with most credit card accounts you won't be held liable for any fraudulent use so long as the fraud hasn't happened through your own negligence. Following the steps above is very powerful evidence to the card issuer that you've done everything possible to protect your account's security, so if you're unfortunate to become a fraud victim then the financial damage to you will be kept as small as possible.
Michael writes for Card Sense UK where you can compare credit cards and their features including balance transfers and rewards schemes. Visit today!