If you’ve recently had to deal with credit card fraud, you’re not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit card fraud was the most common form of identity theft reported in 2020, with over 393,2017 reports from people who had their current credit accounts compromised.
If you spot suspicious charges on your credit card, there are steps you can take to report the fraud and ensure you don’t have to pay for someone else’s purchases. Let’s take a close look at how to identify credit card fraud, how to report credit card fraud and how to stop unauthorized credit card charges.
What is credit card fraud?
Any time a credit account is used without the owner’s knowledge or consent, that account is being used fraudulently. If you fall for a phishing email and unusual charges begin appearing on your credit card account, that’s credit card fraud. If you swipe your card at a gas station without realizing you just inserted your card into a credit card skimmer, that’s credit card fraud. If a family member or roommate steals your credit card and goes on a shopping spree, that’s credit card fraud. If you borrow your spouse’s credit card without their permission, you might be unwittingly committing credit card fraud yourself.
Sometimes this kind of fraud happens on a massive scale. The Marriott security breaches, for example, put millions of people at risk of identity theft. Other times, fraudsters create targeted scams to trap people one at a time. No matter how the fraud happens, the result is pretty much the same: Once a hacker or scammer has access to your credit card number and/or personal information, they can use that information to make purchases on your existing credit cards or take out new lines of credit under your name.
How to report credit card fraud
If you suspect credit card fraud, know your rights. Most credit card issuers offer zero fraud liability on unauthorized charges—but you still have to know how to stop unauthorized credit card charges before you can take advantage of that protection. Here are three steps you can take to report credit card fraud and protect yourself against multiple fraudulent transactions on the same credit card account.
Contact your credit card issuer
The first step in reporting credit card fraud? Contact your credit card issuer. In some cases, your credit card issuer will contact you first—you might receive an email or a mobile alert asking if a recent charge looks familiar, for example. In other cases, you’ll need to report the unusual or suspicious charge yourself by calling the number on the back of your credit card.
The Fair Credit Billing Act states that you must report fraudulent charges within 60 days of receiving the billing statement containing the suspicious charge. This means that if you receive your credit card statement on the first of the month, you have 60 days from that date to report any potentially fraudulent charges. However, it’s a good idea to contact your credit card issuer as soon as you notice any unusual activity on your card—whether you’re reviewing your monthly statement or checking the transactions that recently posted to your online account.
Change your passwords
After you let your credit card issuer know that you suspect your credit card account has been compromised, it’s a good idea to change your passwords. Start by changing the password associated with the credit card in question—then consider changing the passwords on any websites or accounts on which that credit card is stored as a method of payment. If you have the option to implement two-factor authentication on your accounts, now’s a good time to set it up. These security measures will help protect you from repeated credit card fraud.
Update mobile wallets and online accounts
When you report credit card fraud, your credit card issuer is likely to cancel your current credit card and send you a new card with a new credit card number. After your new credit card arrives, take the time to update your mobile wallets and online accounts—especially if you have automatic payments set up. That way, you won’t accidentally fall behind on a subscription or bill. If you used your old credit card to make purchases on sites like Amazon, make sure you update those payment methods as well.
How to protect yourself from credit card fraud
Knowing how to report credit card fraud is one thing—but how do you protect yourself from credit card fraud in the first place? Here are three ways to keep an eye on your credit cards and make it harder for thieves to make purchases in your name.
Review your credit card statements
The best way to protect yourself from credit card fraud is to review your credit card statements every month. Even if you’re the kind of person who regularly logs into your credit card app to check your available credit or review posted transactions, it’s still a good idea to read your credit card statement every time it hits your inbox or mailbox.
When you review your credit card statement, take a close look at each of the transactions associated with your account. Do any purchases look unusual or suspicious? If you suspect that one or more of the charges on your account might be fraudulent, contact your credit card issuer right away.
Set up mobile alerts
Another good way to protect yourself from fraud is to set up mobile alerts. When you activate mobile alerts on your credit card account, your credit card issuer will send you a notification every time a suspicious charge posts to your account. Then, you’ll have the option to let your issuer know whether you made the charge yourself, or whether the charge might be fraudulent.
Fraud protection isn’t the only benefit you’ll get by setting up mobile alerts. Mobile alerts can remind you when your next credit card payment is due and let you know when your most recent payment has gone through. You can also receive notifications every time your account reaches a certain balance—or every time you make a purchase above a certain dollar amount. You can even get a notification every time there is a new charge on your card.
Freeze your credit reports
Protecting your current credit accounts from fraud is an important step—but what if identity thieves try to take out new lines of credit under your name? The best way to protect yourself from this kind of credit card fraud is by freezing your credit reports.
When your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports are frozen, anyone who tries to open a credit card or apply for a loan under your name will be declined. This prevents identity thieves from taking out credit cards or loans under your name, but it also prevents you from opening new lines of credit—so if you want to apply for a new credit card, shop for a mortgage or take out a personal loan, you’ll need to thaw your credit freeze first.
The bottom line
Nearly all credit card fraud schemes, from phishing scams to card skimming, have the same end result: Someone else making fraudulent purchases on your credit card account. Knowing how to report credit card fraud and how to stop unauthorized credit card charges can help protect you from having to pay for someone else’s fraudulent charges. Taking steps to prevent credit card fraud can help protect you from having to deal with these headaches in the future.