6 Must-Do Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Scams

6 Must-Do Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Scams

When times get tough, the crooks start coming out of the woodwork. The last thing you need is to be hit by a Visa, Mastercard, etc. credit card scam when you’re already having a hard time making ends meet. With the current world economy, scammers are stepping up their game so you’ve got to be aware of what they’re up to and keep your credit, your money, and your identity safe.

There are probably a million ways to keep from being the victim of a credit card scam or fraud attempt, but the following six habits (and these are good habits to have) will go a long way in protecting you from Visa scams, Mastercard maliciousness, and Amex anomalies.

  1. Trust but Verify:

    If you receive a phone call from your credit card company, make sure you’re actually talking to your credit card company. Cardholders are increasingly reporting calls from “representatives” who sound official (even going so far as to present “badge numbers” and other official-sounding information) but end up being scam artists. If someone calls your home claiming to be from your card company, politely hang up and call the number on the back of the card itself and verify. At that point you’ve made sure you’re talking to a real credit card company rep and can address any issue they called about in the first place.

  2. Review Your Credit Card Statements:

    This is a no-brainer, right? I don’t even know why I mentioned this because you keep monthly tabs on your credit card activity, looking for odd charges, inconsistencies, and anything else unfamiliar. Reviewing your credit card statement may be the only indication you have that something’s wrong, so do it every time.

  3. Keep Your Card Hidden:

    At restaurants, the grocery store, or anywhere that a stranger might see your card, be sure to keep it under wraps. Visa debit card scammers (and other cards, too) have been known to sneak into legitimate businesses and install cameras to pick up either your card number or your PIN number. Keep them covered as much as possible. And don’t forget to be sure that, at a restaurant, your server actually picks up the “Merchant Copy” of your bill. Many places, but restaurants especially, print out the card number on the signed receipt.

  4. Use a Secure Site (https):

    We’ve already discussed how to spot a fake website, but now you’ve also got to tie that into the first item in our post “5 Simple Tips to Staying Secure Online“. The basic gist is this: When you’re submitting sensitive information, be sure to look in the address bar to make sure you’re on a secure, or “https” site.

  5. Keep One Card for Online Purchases:

    Using one credit card for online purchases will not only help keep your transactions easy to account for (“Honey, why did you put that flat screen TV on the Visa at Amazon?”), but it will also help reduce the hassle you’ll have if/when your card info gets stolen.

  6. Shred Old Credit Cards & Statements:

    It’s not enough to just toss out old cards and to put your old card statements in the recycling bin. Invest in a shredder, preferably a cross-cut shredder. They’re relatively inexpensive, safe, and easy to operate. And as an added bonus, they make it darn near impossible for crooks to get/read your credit card statements.

Keeping yourself free from the headache of identity theft, stolen credit cards, and unwanted purchases is your job. Sure, your card company may have monitoring in place, but only you truly care about the security of your account, so get proactive and learn to protect yourself from credit card scams.

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The Most Dangerous Threat to Your (Internet) Security.

The Most Dangerous Threat to Your (Internet) Security.

There’s a threat lurking on your computer right now. A presence so fraught with security holes that to expose it to any malicious element on the Internet would likely result in things such as identity theft, spyware, hacked accounts, and worse. What’s this problem? The problem, my friend, is you.

“Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people.” Bruce Schneier (computer security expert)

So you’re a danger to yourself and others around you when it comes to Internet security… don’t feel bad. We’re all guilty of it. As humans, we’re notoriously good at being bad: we forget to pick up the milk even though our significant other reminded us, we skip a meal and eat way too much later that night, and we certainly get complacent when it comes to Internet security. And that last thing, that’s what we’re talking about. You can deal with your SO and your doctor on those first two. 🙂

We’ve talked about social engineering before, which is an easy way for hackers and phishers to get information out of you. Instead of breaking into your computer they attempt to break into you, using emails, instant messages, and in some cases even phones or talking to you in real life (both of which are much more rare, but still possible). Once they have gained your trust they begin to break down walls and get at what they really want: your sensitive information. Passwords, account numbers, access codes… anything they can get their hands on that might prove valuable.

In order to stop these people from breaking into your life, you have to train yourself to jog your brain out of complacency when it comes to Internet security. Three of the easiest ways to lock out the bad guys are:

  1. Strong passwords:

    Maybe we’re sounding like a broken record here, but a good password is one of the easiest, and best, deterrents to attacks ranging from account privacy to identity theft. Build yourself a better password.

  2. Trust but verify:

    We’re not suggesting that you live your Internet life in a bubble, just use the same precautions you’d use in the real world. Use some of the tips we wrote in our blog post “5 Simple Tips to Staying Secure Online” and that should cover your bases.

  3. Lock down accounts:

    Your privacy is one of your most important assets online. For every service you use, from your bank to Facebook, make sure that you understand how their security and privacy policies affect you and lock down information such as your physical address and home phone number so that only people you want contacting you can do so.

Reducing the amount of information publicly available about you and keeping up with a few easy Internet security tips will go a long way to keeping you safe… from yourself. 🙂

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Verified by Visa Scam: How to Spot the Fake.

Verified by Visa Scam: How to Spot the Fake.

Update: Learn about Visa’s (rumored) replacement for Verified by Visa, V.me.

Keep on the lookout for a scam regarding the Verified by Visa (VbV) program; a legitimate security layer set up to provide increased protection for your data for online purchases. Internet scam artists are sending out spam linking to fake versions of the program that do nothing to protect you.

The Verified by Visa program is part of the 3-D Secure protocol (developed by Visa), with similar programs adopted by Mastercard (SecureCode) and JCB (J/Secure). These programs provide an additional authentication step (i.e. a password request) for your online purchases through participating Internet retailers. This added step is set up to help ensure your identity at the time of purchase. Here’s the official word from Visa:

In addition to our other ways of preventing, detecting, and resolving fraud, we offer Verified by Visa, a free, simple-to-use service that confirms your identity with an extra password when you make an online transaction.

Phishers are casting their lines and looking for new victims. The bait they’re using is usually an email that looks like the real deal, but ultimately leads to a scam website that tries to get you to submit your credit card number and other information under the guise of the Verified by Visa program. Luckily we’ve got three suggestions for you to protect yourself from getting caught by this scam:

  1. Scrutinize your email:

    Most Verified by Visa phishing attempts start with an official-looking email that requests you to join. However, Visa isn’t sending out emails to customers in order to get them to sign up. The usual way you’d get the Verified by Visa sign up option is through a participating retailer as you begin the checkout process on their website. If you receive one of these emails, call your Visa provider and ask them to verify if the email is legit. Chances are it’s not.

  2. Watch where you’re surfing:

    If you do happen to click on the link from your email, be careful. Phishers and other scam artists are great at copying real websites and making their VbV scam version look legitimate. Check the URL, or web address, that you’re on to make sure you’re on the real site. See our blog post entitled “How to Spot a Fake Website” for more information.

  3. Go to the source:

    If you’re interested in signing up for the Verified by Visa program or learning more about it, visit the official Verified by Visa FAQ.

As always, be wary of emails in your inbox asking you to sign up for anything or giving you a link to click on to enter any of your information.

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Census Scams Strike at Citizens.

Census Scams Strike at Citizens.

If you live in the United States, you’ve probably already heard that the 2010 US Census is making its way across the country. What you may not know, however, is that with the Census comes a legion of fraudsters trying to pull a fast one on folks like you and I.

We’d like to remind everyone that the 2010 US Census will only arrive in a physical mail box, and not your email inbox or anywhere online! Scammers are already hard at work sending phishing emails and setting up fake web sites, trying to get people to reveal personal and/or financial information for the Census. Do not respond to these US Census scam emails and web sites! They’ll only lead to scams, phishing, and worse.

The US Census Bureau has a Fraudulent Activity and Scams web page that gives more information on how they’ll contact you:

  • The Census Bureau does NOT conduct the 2010 Census via the Internet
  • The Census Bureau does not send emails about participating in the 2010 Census
  • The Census Bureau never:
    • Asks for your full social security number
    • Asks for money or a donation
    • Sends requests on behalf of a political party
    • Requests PIN codes, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

For more details on official US Census policy, visit the US Census web site.

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Online Crooks Spread Holiday Scams, Not Cheer.

Online Crooks Spread Holiday Scams, Not Cheer.

If it’s the end of the year then that means it’s time for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the annual ramp up of holiday-related scams, phishing, and other related online naughtiness. If only Santa had enough room on his Naughty List for all of the digital scammers!

It seems like every year the “bad kids” of the online world all seem to come together to get some year-end maliciousness out of their system. Increases in email spam, fake friend requests on social networking sites, and identity theft are part and parcel for the holiday season and this year is no different. If anything the current economic problems in America and the rest of the world make us all more likely to be a victim of holiday scams since we’re all on the hunt for great deals and looking for a way to stretch our holiday budgets.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the more common scams, schemes, and potential problems that you’ll find this year:

  • Fake gift cards

    A perennial favorite, fake gift cards are often touted as being sold for cheaper than their original price (e.g. a $25.00 gift card being sold for $10.00), but many times are either completely fake, stolen and worth no money, or have had most if not all of their value used already. We suggest that you avoid these at all cost unless you get them from the store they are actually from (like Amazon.com gift cards) or another reputable vendor.

  • Fake charities

    Organizations like the United Way, Red Cross, and Toys for Tots do wonders for people across the country, but be careful when making a donation. Be sure that the representative you’re talking to is actually working for a charitable organization and not his or her own pocketbook.

  • Holiday e-cards

    Even though the real ones can be fun, e-cards in general have been known to mask trojans and spyware that are installed on your PC without your knowledge. Be especially careful when you receive an e-card in your inbox during the holidays.

  • Lyric websites

    When looking for Christmas carols you might end up finding malware. Many lyric sites are chock-full of advertising, popups, and it’s easy to accidentally click “OK” on a software install button. Be very careful when getting your play list ready for your carolers.

  • Fake websites

    These tend to come out of the woodwork and often look very convincing. Identity theft and stolen credit card numbers are the usual gifts that are given to holiday scam artists when they set up a fake website that copies an online store or charitable website. Check out our post on “How to Spot a Fake Website” for additional details on how to know which are fake and which are real.

  • Online fraud

    eBay, CraigsList, and other online auction and shopping sites have great deals and a lot of hard-to-find gifts. They also have a lot of fraud associated with them since anyone with an email address can set up an account. Make sure to look for user ratings if possible (eBay in particular has a pretty darn good rating system for buyers and sellers) to see what a seller’s track record is like before you click on the buy button.

We hope that you find these tips useful this holiday season, and we wish you and yours the very happiest of holidays! And if you’ve got kids and they’re still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, check out this Naughty or Nice form that asks a few questions and lets them know what list they are on.

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Staying Safe Online (and Offline).

For all the good that the internet brings to us, it can also be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. Identity theft, burglars reading blogs, and many other issues can catch you in their web if you’re not careful. Because of this we have a few suggestions to help keep you and your family safe both off- and online.

Keep Personal Information Private

It’s easy to reveal too much information on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. These sites usually have online forms where you can input your email, phone number, and even home address. Keeping spam out of your inbox is one thing, but with today’s sophisticated criminals and increased use of the internet by organized crime, you have to be careful with your home and family information.

Remember that anywhere you publish your home address might provide an opportunity for a burglar looking to case a neighborhood to find his or her next victim. Just as you wouldn’t put your Social Security number anywhere for the general public to see, keep as much personal information under wraps as possible: home address, work address, home phone number, etc.

Watch Those Pictures and Videos

Sharing pictures and videos with family and friends is great, especially with the ease of use that most gizmos and gadgets have today; but be careful not to let anything personally identifiable leak out accidentally. Pictures of your home are fine, but make sure that nothing that can identify you or your family is visible. For example, anything like a street sign near your home or the name of the school that your kids attend can be dangerous to post since they can be used to track you down in real life. The same goes for your cars. Even news and entertainment shows blur out license plates for the sake of privacy and security. If your pictures have any elements like that, it’s a good idea to cut- or blur-out those things.

Don’t worry though, because you’re not going to have to spend a lot of cash to buy a photo editing software package like Photoshop (a wonderful, albeit expensive, piece of software). If you don’t have photo-editing software, you can find plenty of free online tools that let you blur, clip, or pixelate pictures without emptying your wallet. A few good ones are Pixlr and Picnik.

Don’t Reveal Too Much

Be sure not to give away too many details about your daily activities. Most people have a general pattern they follow day-to-day as they go to school or work, and criminals can use that information to their advantage. If you post info online about going on vacation, a ball game, or even the grocery store, then those who might use that information against you could be given a perfect opportunity to slide in when you step out. Instead, try posting your activities after the fact, with the added benefit of being able to show pictures of the fun you had (keeping in mind the photo safety tips above).

One Last Thing…

Don’t get us wrong.. it’s not like posting a picture online is going to immediately ruin your life. Well, not any family-friendly photos, at least. Some of the examples given may seem extreme, but they happen, and you need to be aware of them. But like with most things in life, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Exercising a little extra caution before clicking that “submit” button can help curb any potential hazards and keep you and your information safe.

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.