credit card theft
Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash

In 2017, $16.8 billion was stolen from consumers in the U.S. This data, uncovered by Javelin Strategy & Research in their Identity Fraud Report, illustrates the growing problem of identity theft. And although you can freeze your credit to help safeguard against identity theft, it won’t make a difference if your current credit card has been compromised. So, how can you work to ensure that your credit card number doesn’t land in the wrong hands? Follow these six steps to protect yourself from credit card theft.

1. Safeguard Your Passwords

Your account passwords are your first stop in keeping thieves out — but they’re not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. Here are a few ways to keep your passwords strong:

  • Use numbers and special characters in your passwords
  • Never use the same password for more than one account
  • Change your passwords at least once per year
  • Sign up for two-factor authentication on any online account you have that offers it

These tips aren’t just for your login to view your credit card account. Follow the same steps for your other financial accounts, your email accounts, and any website you purchase from (especially any that you’ve enabled to save your credit card number for future purposes). The stronger your passwords are to all of your online accounts, the better.

2. Beware of Public WiFi

Once you know your passwords are secure, the next step to keeping them that way is to beware of public WiFi (such as what you’d get at a coffee shop or airport). You might feel okay using public WiFi to browse the internet, but you shouldn’t use it to log into your credit card or other financial accounts. If you want to go a step further, you can even use a VPN to secure your browsing history while in public — though it shouldn’t be seen as a guarantee of safety, just another layer of security.

The keyword in public WiFi is public. If you wouldn’t want savvy thieves getting their hands on your information, don’t access that information on public WiFi.

3. Use Caution Online

Even if you’re using your internet at home, though, it’s important to be cautious about the websites you purchase from. It’s possible to plug your credit card number into a website that was designed to fool you into thinking it’s legitimate.

Here are a few red flags to watch out for on a website:

  • Grammar and spelling errors
  • A redirect to another URL from the one you started with
  • A website address that starts with “http” instead of “https” (although it’s important to note that the “s,” which stands for secure, is not a guarantee of security)
  • No contact information or privacy policy on the website

These are just a few of the many red flags that could indicate a spammy website, but the main idea is to be very careful about which websites you purchase from. If there’s anything that gives you doubt, think twice about using that website. What’s more, avoid clicking on pop-up advertisements, as the fake ones can install malware onto your computer.

4. Don’t Trust Everything in Your Inbox

Being careful where you click doesn’t stop at spammy pop-up advertisements or websites that aren’t secure. You have to be equally as cautious about what you click on in your inbox.

There are many ways spam can enter your inbox, and it might not all make it into your spam folder. There are also many ways the spam can threaten your personal information if you respond to it. For example:

  • If you click on a link in a spam email, you could unknowingly download malware onto your computer.
  • If you respond to an email requesting your personal information and you provide that information, you could be handing it right over to thieves.
  • You might even find that you get an email that looks legitimate but sends you to a webpage that will steal any information you put on that page.

That’s the thing about email. Just like with sophisticated fake websites, thieves can design emails to make them look real, down to the logos and format you would expect to see from the website they’re impersonating.

To be extra secure, don’t click on links from your bank or credit card issuer that come to your email. Instead, log into their websites directly and view your inbox or any alerts from them there. What’s more, you can always call their customer service line (using the number on their website or the back of your card, not in the email) to ask any questions you might have.

5. Password Protect Your Phone

As technology progresses, unfortunately so do thieves. In the case of credit cards, your phone could be another place to beware of. If you have a wallet set up on your smartphone, and your smartphone gets stolen, then the credit card or cards in that wallet are also at risk of being stolen.

The easy way to guard against this is to password protect your phone. That way someone getting their hands on your phone can’t easily open it up to get whatever information they’re looking for.

6. Create Purchase Alerts

Protecting your credit card isn’t just about taking preventative steps, it’s also important to monitor your credit card activity, so you can catch potential fraud quickly and resolve the matter before it gets out of hand.

You can make monitoring easy by setting up purchase alerts on your credit card. With these alerts, you’re ensuring that you’ll be notified by text or email whenever a purchase (often of a certain amount that you set) is made. All you have to do then is make sure the purchase was yours and then move on if it was.

In keeping with the steps outlined above, you can be extra safe by not clicking on these alerts in your email to dispute fraudulent purchases. It’s easy enough to log into your credit card account (at home) or call the customer service number on the back of your card to quickly and securely make the dispute.

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