How to prevent credit card fraud amid coronavirus pandemic

4 min read
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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in many of us. We’re committing to self-isolation and social distancing, we’re learning new ways to connect with friends and coworkers and we’re becoming skilled at everything from breadmaking to homeschooling.

However, the pandemic also has the potential to bring out the worst in some of us — including scammers.

There is no shortage of bad actors who hope to use coronavirus-related anxiety to part you from your money, your identity and your credit card information. If you’re already facing financial hardship, having your credit card info stolen can be even more detrimental — so it’s important to know what you can do to protect yourself from credit card fraud.

Luckily, there are many ways to prevent credit card fraud, including setting up two-factor authentication systems, creating strong passwords and reporting lost or stolen credit cards.

Here are a few additional ways to protect yourself from credit card fraud today.

Don’t use your card on any untrustworthy websites

The current pandemic has prompted a number of coronavirus scams, including websites posing as IT assistance companies, coronavirus tracking services and more.

Avoid giving your personal information to unfamiliar websites, and never use your credit card on a website you don’t fully trust. There are plenty of well-established, reputable retailers and service providers to choose from, so stick to the sites you know and have used before.

Do your homework before making donations

There are many organizations that could use a little extra support right now, but there are also a lot of scam artists posing as charitable organizations in order to collect money from kindhearted individuals.

Before you make a donation to a charity or nonprofit, check sites like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator to confirm that the organization is reputable and will use your funds for their intended purpose.

Don’t send mobile payments to anyone you don’t know

If you use peer-to-peer payment services like Venmo, Zelle or PayPal, only send money to people you know personally. If someone you don’t know offers to sell you something coronavirus-related (like cleaning or medical supplies) as long as you’re willing to send them a mobile payment first, be aware that this is probably a scam. Make your purchases through reputable vendors, and don’t send money to anyone you don’t know.

You should also watch out for Cash App scammers who claim that if you send them a small amount of money now, they’ll send you a larger amount of money later. All they’re really doing is taking your money, and you’ll never get the payout they promise.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card for online purchases

When you’re shopping online, credit is better than debit. Credit cards offer stronger purchase protections than debit cards, and are quicker to respond to fraudulent transactions — and with credit, your liability is limited to $50.

If you use a debit card online and your card number gets stolen, the money may be taken directly from your account and your dispute can take longer to be resolved. Plus, with debit, your liability increases the longer it takes you to identify and report the fraudulent transaction. If you wait more than two business days, for example, your liability jumps from $50 to $500; if it takes more than 60 days to report the fraud, you could be liable for the entire amount stolen.

Monitor your statements regularly

It’s easy to get in the habit of ignoring your bank and credit card statements — but now is the time to start monitoring your statements regularly. Visit your online accounts and review your recent transactions. Did you make all of those purchases yourself, or do some of them look unfamiliar?

Credit card companies are getting better and better at identifying fraudulent purchases. Still, that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of tracking your own statements and taking action if you find any suspicious charges.

Consider a credit freeze

If you’d like to keep your credit accounts extra-secure, consider a credit freeze. Freezing your credit prevents third parties from accessing your credit reports, which can help protect you from identity theft. Identity thieves often attempt to take out new lines of credit under your name, but if your credit is frozen, a lender won’t be able to complete the credit inquiry (often called a “hard pull”) required to secure a new credit card or loan.

Of course, freezing your credit means that you won’t be able to apply for new credit cards or loans either. When you’re ready to apply for a rewards credit card, take out a personal loan or even rent an apartment or set up a new utility account, you’ll need to thaw your credit reports first.

What to do if you’re a victim of fraud

If you believe that someone is fraudulently using your credit card, your first step is to contact your credit card issuer. The sooner you call your credit card company, the sooner they can help you address the potential fraud — and protect you from future fraudulent transactions.

In many cases, your credit card issuer will contact you as soon as they suspect any fraudulent activity on your account. You may receive texts, emails or phone calls asking you to confirm whether you made a recent charge; if you get a text asking you to confirm a charge you know you didn’t make, don’t panic. Let your card issuer know that you didn’t make the transaction and let them take over from there.

You might also want to put a fraud alert on your credit report. This is exactly what it sounds like: an alert that informs lenders, creditors and anyone else who requests your credit report that you have recently been a victim of fraud or identity theft.

Fraud alerts prevent future credit card fraud by making lenders aware that they need to re-confirm your identity before issuing new lines of credit.

Bottom line

In order to protect yourself from credit card fraud, be both thoughtful and careful about where you share your credit card information. Stick to retailers you know well, avoid making donations to charities you haven’t researched and never make a peer-to-peer transaction with someone you haven’t met personally.

If you do become a victim of credit card fraud, contact your credit card issuer right away; they’ll have systems in place to deal with the situation and protect your credit account from future fraudulent activity.