Whether you’re planning to line up for a new flat-screen TV at midnight or expecting to knock out your shopping on the iPad from the comfort of your couch, chances are you’ll be using your credit card a lot more in the coming weeks.
And that means more chances for your card information to be stolen.
Retailers and consumers are still recovering from a slew of data breaches in the past year, and security experts say more are likely. Even as merchants transition to new and more secure payment technology, consumers are vulnerable to fraud — and hackers will be coming out full force — until safer options are more widespread.
These moves can help you minimize your chances of fraud and ease the hassle of dealing with it if it happens:
Choose credit over debit. The truth is that most banks will refund you for any fraudulent transactions whether you are paying debit or credit. But when debit cards are hacked, thieves gain access to your hard-earned cash. When a credit card are hacked, the credit card company carries more of the risk.
Use an EMV chip card. You may have noticed the little metallic chips on newer credit cards. That means the card is equipped to work with the new payment technology thought to be safer than the old system of magnetic stripes. (If you don’t have a chip, you can request a new card from your issuer.) It’s a little complicated, but basically the chip generates a different code for every transaction while the information created by the magnetic stripe never changes. So if someone gets ahold of the code created by the chip, it’s useless on another transaction. If they steal the information from the magnetic stripe, they can recreate it and use it again.
The catch is that not all merchants can use this technology yet. So if your card has a chip but you’re paying at a store that only uses magnetic stripe technology, you aren’t benefiting from the added protection, says Matt Schulz, an analyst for CreditCards.com. After October 2015, merchants that don’t have the EMV chip card readers may have to pay for any fraud that happens in their stores.
Consider using Apple Pay. If you upgraded to the iPhone 6, you may be able to test out Apple’s new payment system. Instead of transmitting credit or debit card information, the phone generates a unique code to identify the device and a separate code to secure the transaction. “The short story is your phone becomes your card,” says Mary Ann Miller senior director with NICE Actimize, which provides fraud protection software to banks. Purchases can also be secured with fingerprint ID, to limit the chances that someone can go on a shopping spree with your phone. If the phone or iPad is lost, you can suspend Apple pay remotely.
Monitor your transactions. Going over your credit card statements line by line may not sound like the most exciting thing to do when there are big meals waiting and parties to attend. But checking your statements often is the easiest to spot a fraudulent purchase quickly, says Ryan Bailey, executive vice president with TD Bank. If you check your account every couple of days, you only have to glance at a few transactions, whereas if you wait a month you may have to pore over a longer list. Also some banks offer services that will alert you when a suspicious transaction is made with your card.
Keep your holiday shopping to one credit card. Not only does this reduce the number of cards you need to check often (though you should still check all other cards periodically), it minimizes your chances of this happening to you more than once. The card you use for shopping should also be different from the card you use to pay your monthly phone bill, magazine subscription and other bills, says Seth Ruden, Senior Fraud Consultant for ACI Worldwide, a payments software company. That way if something does happen to the card, he says, you won’t have to reset your payment information for all of those accounts.
Make sure your card issuer knows how to reach you. It’ll be tough to verify your identity after your card is stolen if the bank has your address from three moves ago. Let your card issuer know if you’ll be traveling and make sure it has your latest phone number, address and other contact information, says Beverly Ladley, an executive with SunTrust Bank. By the same token, don’t give away too much information if you get a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, she says. It’s always best to call the number on the back of your card or on the bank’s Web site.
Find out what protections your credit card offers. So maybe you made it through the holiday season without having your card hacked, but someone stole the Nintendo Wii you bought for your kids from the trunk of your car. Your credit card may offer purchase assurance, a form of protection that gives refunds for items that are stolen or damaged within 90 days, Ladley says. It helps to have the receipt on hand, however, so you may want to take those out of the bag and stash them in your wallet.