The Guide to Avoiding Fraudulent Charges

by Carly Rae Zent
First, you should try to prevent scammers from stealing your personal info. Second, set up alerts so that you know when fraudulent charges are being made.

It’s easy as pie to steal credit and debit card numbers these days. It’s possible to buy a scanner for relatively cheap that will steal numbers of passing cards without even touching them. There are sophisticated, hard-to-spot skimmers installed on ATMs and at gas stations. There are clever scams everywhere.

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission reported 2.68 million customers filed complaints. That amounted to $905 million in fraud. Some people incur multiple fraudulent charges in a year. The problem is huge and only getting more common and more damaging.

So what tools does the average person have in preventing fraud? Turns out, quite a few.


Turn on your notifications.

The classic advice is to keep an eye on bank and credit card statements for any unsuspected charges. But many people have gone paperless and don’t bother.

The more modern version of this advice is to turn on your notifications. Most bank and credit cards apps will have a notification option on your phone to let you know about any charges to your account.

These notifications will tell you right away about any charges you didn’t make—that way, you don’t even have to wait for the monthly statement to notice that something is awry.

Use a credit card—not a debit card.

It’s good advice to use a credit card instead of a debit card at places where you might be more likely to encounter a credit card skimmer or other fraudulent charge strategies.

Legally, you have less liability when a credit card incurs a fraudulent charge. Some credit cards offer zero liability whatsoever. Most credit card companies are willing to drop disputed charges without too much hassle. Plus, if you get a fraudulent charge on a credit card, it’s just credit. You haven’t lost any money. Your funds will be freed up to use as normal. It won’t make your credit any worse.

If a debit card incurs a fraudulent charge, the bank will likely open a case and investigate. At the end of the case, they might determine that you have to pay some or all of the fraudulent charge. In the meantime, your cash is tied up. This will cause no end of headaches and you won’t be able to pay bills as you normally would without taking out a payday loan.

Pay inside.

Card skimmers are extremely easy to apply to outdoor card readers on ATMs and gas stations. Card machines inside the building of a gas station or bank are more secure. They’re surrounded by workers during opening hours. Plus, an employee is more likely to spot an unusual device attached to a card reader than a customer who doesn’t know what it normally looks like.

It’s more secure to take the time to pay inside at gas stations or go inside to withdraw cash from a bank teller.

Be careful about the websites you give information to.

Online shopping is huge. Almost 80 percent of consumers purchase things over the internet. And no wonder—it’s convenient, it’s quick, and you can compare prices. Unfortunately, the internet is also full of websites eager to steal credit card numbers.

Before you give away your payment information, ask yourself the following questions to ensure that you’re sharing it safely:

  • Does this website have a good reputation?
  • Do I know people who have shopped here safely before?
  • Does the URL say “https” (instead of just “http”) to indicate the webpage is secure?
  • If I haven’t used this website before, do Google searches of the site bring up any suspicious news, Better Business Bureau reports, or customer reviews?
  • Are there secure payment options, like PayPal?
  • Once I’ve paid, does the amount paid match the total of the purchase?

Besides gas stations, the internet is another place where it might be preferable to use a credit card over a debit card.

If the bank calls you, hang up and call them back at the official hotline number.

There is a scam that goes like this:

Someone who has acquired your debit card information and your phone number makes a fraudulent charge. They then call your phone and say they are the bank checking on a suspicious charge. Because they know about a charge on your account, you believe them and give them more personal information. Meanwhile, your real bank has not been alerted to the fraudulent charge.

This is a common scam, and there are other similar scams created with the aim of getting as much information as possible so that the scammers can infiltrate other private accounts.

In order to prevent this kind of scam, banks recommend that if anything seems weird about a call from a bank—or even if you want to be extra safe—you hang up. Then, you call the bank back at the official hotline numbers on their website.

Don’t manage bank information on public wifi.

Public wifi at stores and coffee shops is simply not secure. They are not private networks, and hackers are capable of intercepting information being transferred over the wifi signal. This wifi is fine for everyday activities, but don’t log in to your bank website or online shop.

You should also not use public computers at internet cafes and libraries for financial purposes. These computers could have keyloggers placed there by hackers to collect private information.

Use an RFID-blocking wallet.

The cards that you use for credit cards and debit cards—and even your driver’s license—are actually quite high-tech these days. They often contain RFID software that is used to wirelessly transmit information.

Because of this technology, pickpockets no longer need to reach into your purse or pants to steal credit card information. They can take it using simply an RFID-scanning device. While this isn’t as common as credit card skimmers installed on ATM machines, it still happens in high-fraud areas. It especially happens in places like malls, especially during holiday shopping season. You don’t even have to buy a thing with your card for the information to be stolen.

Luckily, there is a solution for this—many wallets are designed to block these devices to make it more difficult for thieves to passively collect sensitive information. There are several different kinds with different levels of effectiveness, so be sure to check out reviews before purchasing one.

Stay safe out there.

There are plenty of bad actors looking to prey on normal people just trying to live their life, take care of their family, and pay their bills. By taking these simple steps and remaining aware of the ways that information gets stolen in a technology-driven era, you can increase your chances of remaining safe.

And if you do ever find a fraudulent charge, report it right away. The faster your financial institution knows, the more likely they can help you erase the charge and secure your account. To learn more about keeping your money and your information safe, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

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