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By: Thomas White

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How to Keep Your Payment Cards Safe over the Holidays

Identity and Fraud Protection

Criminals love the holiday season. Why? Because it gives them more opportunities to steal payment card information. They do this at the register, online, by phone, and even at the gas station. Fraudsters have many techniques for committing card fraud. This article will outline some of their techniques and give you some tips for how to keep your payment card safe over the holidays.


Danger at the ATM, gas terminal, or checkout


Danger at the ATM, gas terminal, or checkout:


Card skimmers: Skimmers are devices that criminals install on or in card terminals. Skimmers read the information on your credit or debit card when you swipe it.

What you can do: Skimmers can be hard to identify, but check the machine for signs of tampering. The fraudster can replace the cover with a fake, so the coloring or graphics may not match or may be off center. Tampering can also make the card reader loose. Check the integrity of the device by pulling on the card reader. Wiggle it and push to see if it is loose. The original will be solid enough to take some manhandling. If you feel movement, you could be dealing with a skimmer.


Hidden cameras: Criminals will often place a hidden camera near the terminal keypad. They use the camera to record your PIN as you type it.

What you can do: Shield the keypad with your other hand as you type in your PIN. This simple act of covering your hand can help protect your card from fraudulent use.


danger at the store


Danger at the store:


Magnetic stripe card machines: Most people have chip cards at this point. However, not all retailers have a chip enabled payment reader (checkout terminal). When possible, use the chip card reader at checkout. If your retailer’s checkout doesn’t have a chip reader and your card has to have the magnetic stripe read, your card is still vulnerable.

What you can do: Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do in this situation. The best defense is to check your card activity online as frequently as possible. Make sure you recognize all charges made to the account.


In-person card skimming: Card skimmers aren’t only found attached to card terminals. The person at the checkout counter may also try to skim your card by using a handheld skimmer. The fraudster may keep the skimmer under the counter or in their pocket.

What you can do: make sure your card is in your line of sight at all times. If the cashier moves your card out of your line of sight, ask them why they did so. If the answer isn’t convincing, you may want to talk to the manager.


Searching eyes: People can gather information from your card just by looking. If you’re holding your card in plain sight and typing in your PIN so that everyone can see, someone may be watching.

What you can do: Be aware of the people around you. Keep your card covered until you need to use it and always cover your hand when you’re typing your PIN.


Danger online


Danger online:


Unsecured online checkout: Invalid or unsecured website pages can be a fraudster’s playground. Do not make purchases on these sites. By using them, you may be giving your information directly to fraudsters.

What you can do: Be aware when you’re using your card online. If you are checking out, the URL of the page you are checking out on should begin with https:// (note the “s” at the end of the “http”). https stands for hyper text transfer protocol secure. https pages encrypt information as it passes from your browser to the retailer’s website.

Unfortunately, fraudsters are able to obtain https certificates. In fact, new research suggests that half of online phishing sites have “https.” Therefore, it’s important to go to reputable vendors and be cautious of using search engines to get to the online site.

Other ways to help ensure that you are on a legitimate site include:

  • Examining the URL to make sure it matches the name of the business,
  • Purchasing only from reputable retailers,
  • Checking for misspelled URLs,
  • And typing URLs into the search bar rather than relying on links.


Danger by phone


Danger by phone:


Fraudulent phone calls: In this type of scam, the fraudster calls you on the phone. They pretend they are from an organization you know and trust. They then ask you to confirm your personal information.

What you can do: Reputable businesses won't call you to ask for personal information. Do not give your information out. You can make sure the call is legitimate by hanging up the phone and calling back using the number you have on file for the company.


The best defense:


Be vigilant about your credit and debit card and other financial accounts. Check your statements, even reviewing your accounts online, to ensure that all purchases and charges made are yours. Fraudsters can open up new accounts using your information. You may not even know these accounts exist unless you uncover this type of behavior by checking your credit report regularly.


The best defense against credit card fraud is to remain aware of your surroundings, your card, and your account activity.Tweet: The best defense against credit card fraud is to remain aware of your surroundings, your card, and your account activity.


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About Thomas White

Thomas White is the senior fraud specialist at VSECU.