Almost half of the world’s credit card theft occurs in this country. But only about 25% of all card transactions occur here. (The Nilson Report, July 2015) Nearly everyone has had a credit card compromised at least once. My credit card info has been stolen at least four times. The irritation is spending the time to update my card info on the websites associated with the bills that auto-pay on my card.
How They Steal Your Information
Credit card thieves don’t have to pick your pocket or steal your wallet. They can get your card information more efficient ways.
Skimmers come in two flavors. One is the ice-cube skimmer. The waiter takes the card away to create the credit card slip. With an ice cubed sized skimmer, the crook can swipe your data while your card is out of your sight. This tiny skimmer is probably the one that lifted my card data in a reputable Houston restaurant a few years ago. One hour later, someone was using my card to buy tires in Dallas. My card issuer called me, knowing that I couldn’t drive fast enough to get from Houston to a Dallas tire store in under an hour. The other skimmer flavor is attached to the credit card reader at the gas pump. This skimmer emits a Bluetooth signal to a laptop close by. In addition to gas pumps, watch for skimmers on ATMs, parking meters and vending machines.
Hackers and phishers go after your credit card information with software and malware. The hacker gets into a legitimate website with weak security. When you visit that site, malware downloads to your computer. The hacker can then access your personal data. The phisher uses malware to get into your computer with a link on a tempting email, then captures your data.
What Happens to Your Information?
The front-line thief will get $5 to $10 per card to sell your information online. A wholesaler buys the information, verifies it and sells it to other thieves who create fraudulent credit cards using your account information. Another level of thieves buy the cards to use for purchases like stereos, tires and baby formula. They then sell the goods to consumers.
Thwarting the Thieves
The more effective you are at thwarting thieves, the less time you’ll need to waste updating your replacement card information online.
- Set up mobile alerts from your credit card issuer.
- Monitor your credit card activity regularly online.
- Do not use public computers.
- Start using that new credit card you received with the chip in it. That is a teeny tiny computer chip that is extremely difficult to counterfeit. The regular magnetic-stripe cards are much easier to reproduce.
- But leave the “Please Activate” sticker on your new cards. Thieves know that a card has to be activated from the phone number associated with the card account. They may steal your other cards, but usually leave behind the cards with the activation stickers.
- Stick to established websites. Do not buy from unfamiliar online vendors.
- If you learn of a compromise, set up a fraud alert on your credit report. Notify your credit card issuer, if they have not contacted you first.
- Go paperless and get copies of your statements online.
- Sign your credit card with a Sharpie. This cannot be erased and fraudulently signed.
- Shred, shred, shred. This includes anything that shows any part of a number, name or address, including credit card receipts.
Streamlining Your Credit Card Switch Over
It seems I am always updating credit card information; usually because I receive a replacement card. Most of my bills are paid with auto-pay to credit cards. I have to update all the vendor websites for every replacement card. Irritated with the wasted time, I created a routine for streamlining my update process.
I have a spreadsheet with all the info I need to quickly make the updates. When I get the new card, I plan when to activate and update so that I have a window of a few days before any auto-pay comes through. My spreadsheet includes several bits of information for each vendor.
- Day of the month the auto-pay hits my card (5th, 14th, etc.)
- Approximate amount of the monthly bill ($199 or high estimate if it varies)
- Payee name (Liberty Health Share, State Farm, etc.)
- Date of Change (the date I updated the credit card data on the payee website)
- Changed To (new expire date, last few digits of the new card number, etc.)
- Notes (“changed online” or “changed with an agent phone call”)
Stolen credit card data is part of life now. Hopefully some of these tips will help reduce the stress we cannot avoid.