A fraudulent credit card charge can wreak havoc on your personal finances.
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If you’re reviewing your account’s transactions and notice a purchase you don’t remember making, you may be a victim of credit card fraud.

Put simply, credit card fraud is any unauthorized charge on your account, but the entire situation can become complex. Credit card fraud can come from unknown charges on your account (known as account takeover) or through identity theft, where an entirely new account is opened under your name.

According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission, there were nearly 3 million individual reports of fraud in the 2018 alone. The FTC estimated the total value of these threats at roughly $1.48 billion. While most of these cases are remediated, you don’t want to be an all-too-real part of that statistic.

An overlooked or ignored fraudulent charge or account can be very problematic. Your credit score could take a hit in the short-term due to underpaying or falling behind on your payments, but handling the situation properly and reporting it could prevent any long-term impact. Due to it being out of your control in many cases, credit card fraud is an inconvenient hassle that can enter your life at any time. Let’s go over what to do if your account is in jeopardy and how to prevent credit card fraud in the future.

What to do if you’re a victim of credit card fraud

If you find a charge on your account that you can’t quite recall, it’s best you act fast. We’ll walk through some steps you might need to take to best handle dealing with a mystery charge.

1.   Contact your card issuer

As soon as you notice suspicious activity on your statement, reach out to your card issuer. You may want to lookup the best number to contact (many banks have fraud departments), but most credit cards have the toll-free number on the back.

Your card issuer should be able to track the location and time of the purchase in question, so it’ll be easy to determine whether it truly is a fraudulent charge or just a forgotten transaction. If it’s definitely a nonsense charge, most card issuers will contact the vendor themselves to have the purchase reversed and removed from your account. They may require some additional time for investigation or ask you to provide an affidavit of fraud, but contacting your bank/card issuer is the first thing to do when you think your statement is inaccurate.

It’s important to know that there are specific cases where this may be the only step needed to fix the problem. However, you may run the risk of future fraud and set yourself up for even more hassle down the line, so additional steps could be necessary.

2.   Protect your accounts

After reporting your initial concern, look into your other credit card accounts to ensure that there’s no extra foul play going on.

To avoid anything further being compromised, change the passwords on your accounts to be as secure as possible. It’s next to impossible to know exactly how criminals got your card information in the first place, so it’s good practice to go one length further to be sure you’re safe.

Also, your bank may decide to send you a card with a new number. If it requires new login credentials, be sure to differentiate from your old accounts.

3.   Contact credit bureaus

The next step in combating credit card fraud is to report it to one of the three national credit bureaus:

By calling and placing a fraud alert with one of these organizations, you can prevent the thieves from doing further damage. They may be looking to open additional accounts with your information and continue to cause chaos in your account, but by taking this step you’ll be contacted before an existing account is changed or a new one is created.

This step is essential in protecting your credit score. A call to just one of the three will suffice; whoever you decide to contact must reach out to the other two bureaus within a day.

4.   File a police report

If you’re not aware of who has committed the fraudulent charges, filing a report with your local police station can save you some long-term stress. While they may not necessarily be able to find the perpetrator across the globe, your frustrations could be caused by someone in your area. Plus, identity theft is not a joke, so it’s best to be sure you’re protected.

If you’re unfortunate enough to fall victim to a pattern of fraud, it’ll be nice to have law enforcement’s help to open an investigation. Hold onto a copy of the report to have proof of the crime, it’ll help you if an Identity Theft Report is necessary and when dealing with creditors.

5.   File a complaint with the FTC

The FTC serves as an ally to victims of identity theft. Listening to complaints, providing relevant information and referring complaints to law enforcement and/or credit reporting agencies are a few responsibilities the committee oversees. The FTC may also refer your case to another government agency or to a company for further action if it’s deemed necessary. Luckily, filing a complaint doesn’t require a phone call, just fill out the FTC’s online complaint form.

6.   Consider identity theft protection services

You don’t want counterfeit credit card charges to lead to a full-on disaster situation, so look into identity theft protection services if the situation calls for it. These companies will charge a monthly or annual fee to keep watch over your credit and alert you if anything seems out of the ordinary.

These services are best suited for cases involving repeat fraud, a lost Social Security card or other official government ID and/or if you’ve been a victim of a data breach.

7.   Monitor your statements

This advice should be put into practice at any point you have a credit card account, but it’s especially crucial after your initial phony charges — you may be at a higher risk than you were before. Even after going through the steps, changing login credentials and stopping the charges, the crooks may still have information to access your account.

How to protect yourself from credit card fraud

If you’re lucky enough to be in the clear with credit card fraud thus far, knowing what you can do to keep your account clean and identity safe is a must.

With what seems to be never-ending growth of the internet, it’s vital that you protect your private information online. Check for your browser’s “lock” icon in the bar where the site address is displayed to be sure you are on a secure website anytime you enter your info. When it comes to checking your email, keep an eye out for phishing attacks that may allow cyber-thieves to access your accounts and learn more about your identity.

Maintaining up-to-date anti-virus and spyware software can be key to keeping your information safe, so do a little work to learn how to use these tools. It should be no hassle; these software programs typically run automatically once a week.

Be sure you’re following password best practices and not using anything obvious, such as “password” or “123456.” Here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Don’t share your login information
  • Don’t write your password down
  • Use a long password with a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters
  • Change your password regularly

These steps are key to avoiding fraud. A poorly protected account is as good as an unlocked front door when it comes to keeping your information safe.

When using your card in person, be conscious of where you’re swiping. Gas pumps and ATMs are notorious for credit card skimming, so take the time to inspect the credit card processor. Also, through “shimming”, thieves have found a new way to steal your credit card data, so know the signs of a suspicious environment when you see one. Keeping your receipts can be helpful anytime a question of fraud arises as well.

A secure way to protect your payments, both online and in person, is through the use of mobile wallets. Options such as Apple Pay and Google Pay offer a way to make secure payments from your smartphone or watch whether you’re in-store or at home. For Samsung users, Samsung Pay provides a safe way for you to spend too.

All in all, the most important factor when it comes to avoiding credit card fraud is your own monitoring. Checking your credit report and statements routinely will set you up for success and ease the process if a problem were to come up.

Unfortunately, history tells us that people will continue to find ways to try to wrongfully get ahead. However, by being prepared and properly reviewing your transactions, a potential long-term nightmare may have a short-term solution.