criminal hacker credit card computer security

Five Unusual Tips to Protect Your Credit Card from the Bad Guys

It’s my least favorite annual ritual.

Every year—at LEAST once—I receive notice from my bank that my credit card number is showing “suspicious activity.” Usually, this notice comes in the form of me attempting to purchase something at a store, and the store (embarrassingly, especially for someone who is absolutely OCD about never carrying a balance) declining my card.

And so begins the dance that I now know so well, wherein I call my bank, learn that they have put a fraud alert on my card (which usually shows up in my text messages and/or email about 30 minutes after this phone call), and then listen to the litany of fraudulent uses or attempted uses of my account number.

“Did you order online from RayBan on January 5th?” **
I wear prescription glasses. No RayBans for me.

“Did you shop at a Piggly Wiggly in Chattanooga on January 5th? **
Never even been to Tennessee.

“Did you purchase a pager from a telecommunications company in Russia on January 5th?” **
Um, you’re kidding, right? And do people even USE pagers anymore??

 “Okay then, we’ll get these charges removed, cancel your card, and get a new card out to you in the next two days.”

**NOTE: All these fraudulent charges have actually happened to me!

So yeah—ultimately, when someone rips off your credit card number, it’s not a very big deal, but it is a HUGE inconvenience.

More importantly, however, credit card hacking is part of the constellation of crimes that includes the far-more-horrific issue of Identity Theft.

And it is with that in mind that I was moved to research today’s topic: just how does one prevent The Bad Guys from ripping off our credit card info??

Well, the bad news is, if you use a credit card, there is no way to be 100{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2} certain it won’t be ripped off (hence, my annual ritual with my bank). But it turns out there are a few rather atypical things you can do to minimize the risk of sponsoring someone’s pager habit in Russia…or at least minimize the headaches you’ll have to endure when you do eventually get hacked. I’ve outlined my five faves and summarized them below.

woman online shopping credit card security

This woman is happy because she is buying SHOES!

Reserve a separate card that you use only for online purchases.

The beauty of this is that if a hacker is able to access your digits and cause you to cancel your card, you still have a card in your wallet that you can use for day-to-day purchases. Yeah, you could go to a strictly cash basis while you wait for your bank to ship your new credit card, but frankly, in today’s world that’s a bit of a pain in the ass. Also, who doesn’t want to earn air miles when they buy a venti triple mocha frappuccino? 😉

Happy woman laptop credit card security online banking shopping

See this card right here? That’s my AUTOMATIC-BILLING-ONLY card, folks!

Use yet another card for your online automatic billing accounts.

This special credit card never sees the light of day…other than (metaphorically, of course) via the super-tight IT security systems that are employed by the sort of institutions that let you set up auto-billing (e.g., utility companies, insurance companies).

If/when your regular credit card gets hacked, it’s a HUGE relief knowing that your auto-billing accounts can remain as they were. It sucks big time when you have to go in and change all that account information due to some ne’er-do-well using your account number to buy a new pair of Nikes. Knock wood, keeping one card exclusively for auto-billing has kept me from ever having to redo my online account billing.

Gas pump

Gee, this all looks so…innocent!

Look closely at the card swipe device at gas stations, ATMs, and other remote terminals.

Does it seem “wiggly”? Do the buttons not seem quite flush with the surrounding housing? It’s not a foolproof way to assess the situation, but thieves do occasionally install “skimmers” on top of legitimate terminals. Skimmers let them record your data, and there’s usually a hidden camera nearby that lets them see what PIN you enter.

If anything seems fishy, avoid using the device. And even if it looks okay, use one hand to shield the keypad while you enter your PIN (or, in the case of many gas stations, your zip code). Bonus points: when you’re done entering your PIN, keep your shielding hand in place for a count of five. This is because some of those hidden cameras are heat-sensing and can detect where your fingers have been after you’ve punched the keypad. Give the pad a chance to return to ambient temperature as an added layer of security.

restaurant cafe credit card security

And you thought the only risk of dining out was salmonella….

When you give your card to a waiter, make sure the card they return is yours.

This was a new one to me, but apparently, it’s not that uncommon. Apparently—especially in the restaurant business—unscrupulous retailers will keep a stack of old credit cards on hand, and when you hand them YOUR American Express, they return an American Express of the same type (e.g., Platinum) to you…but it’s not yours. It’s someone’s expired or cancelled card. If you catch the error, the perpetrator can easily apologize for their mistake, disappear, and return with your real card. If you don’t catch them? Well, they’ve potentially got HOURS to use your card before you notice the switch.


Woman phone cafe

…and don’t even get me started on her shoes…!

Don’t give your credit card number over the phone in a public place!!

I know I said this article featured unusual tips, and this one seems like a “Well, DUH!” entry, but I cannot even count the number of times I’ve been in an airport lounge and had some person next to me conduct full financial transactions on their phone. It’s probably only seconded by the number of conversations I’ve overheard that detail in gross detail a personal medical issue.

I don’t know why it is that people feel they enter some sort of bubble of privacy when then start gabbing on the ol’ mobile, but they clearly do. Just because it’s common sense to avoid this behavior, it clearly is not common practice. So don’t be this person. If you must conduct financial business on the phone, only give your financial details to reputable institutions that you’ve contacted yourself, and for gawds sake, do it in private.

* * * * *

In this article, I’ve focused specifically on the topic of credit card theft, but future installations in this series will look at other ways in which our personal data is at risk…and what we can do to secure it. Stay tuned!

Want to learn even more about keeping yourself from being A Victim of Circumstance?
Download my free “Emergency Preparedness for Women” guide

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