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Credit card crime, according to all of the latest statistics, is up. But for a credit card-carrying colleague of mine here at CardRatings.com, it's way up. In the last six months, she has been the victim of either debit or credit card crime three times. Can you blame her for wanting to remain anonymous?
The first time
Six months ago, her credit card was fraudulently used to buy airplane tickets in New York to the Dominican Republic on JetBlue. The tickets were not in her name, and she never lost the card, and yet some crook still managed to utilize her good credit. Fortunately, she wasn't liable for the tickets, the card was replaced and the charges were easily reversed within a few days.
The second time
Two weeks ago, she received a phone call from her bank's fraud department. They wanted to see if she would authorize some charges that were on her check card. Dog food? Check. Groceries? Check. How about $153 at a gas station in Canada? "Um, what?"
The charge was declined, the card was replaced, and she once again wasn't liable. Her card wasn't lost, nor was her PIN number used or compromised in any way, so most likely it was skimmed at a gas station or ATM.
The third (and hopefully final) time
Last Friday, she logged onto her bank's website to balance her checkbook, and she found eight charges, again from Canadian gas stations, not on her card but on her husband's card. The grand total, including foreign transaction fees, was over $600 in approved charges.
She called and filed a claim. For the third time, she wasn't liable. The card was not lost or stolen, nor was the PIN used and the activity was reported immediately. The bank provided a provisional credit for the charges and fees. But fully resolving the claim could take up to 90 days.
What could have been done differently?
"Nothing, really," she says. "Both of our cards were likely skimmed at one of the places that we regularly use. We compared where we used our cards and alerted the businesses we both used."
"We have zero liability under both the bank and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), but it's $600 that the bank has lost because the security technology is so outdated."
Upgraded security technology would include EMV technology, which is already popular in Europe and other nations abroad. These credit cards possess computer chips that store and transmit encrypted data and have unique identifiers that change after each transaction. They offer such superior protection that when it comes to thievery, many sophisticated credit card crime rings wind up in America because of our late adoption of the technology.
Tips to help fight fraud
Make your credit card your "go-to" card for all purchases. If you're diligent about paying off your balance every month, this could be a good strategy. Not only do you have better zero-liability protection, but you could also generate a steady stream of reward points or cash back.
Devote one card to each major kind of spending. Use one card for Internet purchases, and a separate card for in-person purchases. This simple separation can help you narrow down where fraud may have occurred.
Using a check card? Run it as credit instead of debit. This could prevent a pinhole camera from spying your PIN and also helps to reduce your liability with fraudulent transactions.
Check your account balances and reconcile charges frequently. Spotting fraudulent activity as soon as possible is important in some zero-liability instances.
"I feel like the poster child for paying everything with credit," says my colleague, "and this has pushed us to do just that. It's one thing to know someone is charging up a storm, but quite another to have them siphoning off your checking account and watch the balance go down."
Still, perhaps my colleague can feel some consolation that she is in good company. According to a report from Consumer Reports, U.S. card issuers' total losses from credit and debit card fraud total $2.4 billion in 2010, although that number doesn't include all the losses that stores sustain. That's a lot of credit card and debit card victims out there.