There are few things more upsetting to a 20-something than an 8 a.m. Saturday morning call. Not only is this my pretend I’m-still-in-college-and-sleep-past-noon day, but a telephone call at this time usually means something bad has happened. On Saturday, April 21, I got that obnoxious call. The call was from an 800 number, which I thought was odd. A recording started immediately after I said hello—”This is the Chase bank fraud department calling to notify you of potentially fraudulent activity on your Chase credit card ending in 0080.” Though I was groggy, this woke me up.
I’d had this card for under a year. I’d been paying my own cellphone bill since I was in high school, but otherwise hadn’t done much to build a strong credit history as a young adult. So, once I graduated from college and landed a stable job, I opened this credit card account. I’d been careful with it–at least I thought. I paid the balance in full each month. I used the card for regular purchases–groceries, gas, occasional eating out. I paid close attention to how I used the card for online purchases. But, as this 8 a.m. call indicated, despite my vigilance, someone had gotten hold of my card information.
The Chase representative I spoke with explained that a charge was made to an “overseas” company, immediately raising some suspicions on their end. Chase flagged the charge and contacted me.
“As a standard practice, Chase continuously monitors credit card accounts for any suspicious behavior and [notifies] card members immediately when something unusual is detected,” said Nicole Kennedy, a spokesperson for Chase.
This consistent eye is one of the best ways to quickly resolve credit card fraud issues. After officially challenging the small nine dollar charge, my card was cancelled and the charge in question went under review. The money was credited back to me and Chase overnighted a brand new credit card. Everything was taken care of relatively easily.
Because Chase had caught this rogue charge so quickly, I wasn’t going to have any real issues. The card was cancelled, my credit line was again secure, and my identity was not stolen.
Kennedy explained, “Chase is actively involved in fraud protection using sophisticated systems to monitor and detect fraudulent activity and employ[ing] over 1,000 people dedicated to protecting customers.”
So, how had this happened? How was someone able to use my card to purchase an item from Switzerland? What had I done to put myself in danger of credit card fraud? While there are some circumstances that are beyond your control, these guidelines can better protect your credit card information during online purchases:
Never Use a Public Computer
You should always make online purchases from your own personal computer. Never use your credit or debit card information on a public computer. You can never be certain what types of malicious software or viruses might be present. There are many things that nefarious individuals can do on a public computer to jeopardize sensitive information you enter. With your personal computer, you know everyone who uses it and you can keep careful track of its security and health. Be sure that you maintain your personal computer regularly with antivirus software and regular scans.
Never Use a Public Internet Connection
As connectivity becomes more prevalent in our everyday lives, public WiFi is popping up all over the place. Though it may be tempting to buy a cute blouse while sipping a latte at a local coffee shop, it’s not a wise decision. Hackers can use programs that help them gain access to wireless data to acquire illegal entry into computers and networks. Hackers can connect to public WiFi hotspots and “watch” all data that moves across it. This data can range from trivial things like your Google searches to more crucial things like your bank account login information or credit card number. A public WiFi connection is exactly as it sounds—an unencrypted internet connection that can be, and likely is shared with anyone, whether they have good intentions or not.
Check Website Security
If you are making purchases online be sure that the websites you are using have security precautions in place. Most vendor websites and other sites that require users to enter sensitive information use encryption technology that turns the text entered into digital gibberish to anyone who sees it. The encryption technology that websites use is called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Users can identify if a site uses SSL by noticing the “https” in the address bar—the “s” in the URL indicates encryption. Consumers should also look for a locked padlock symbol that appears in front of the “www” in the address line, if the site is secure. These two things indicate that the site encrypts or converts information into code in order to protect any information that is sent or received by the computer.
Never Auto-Save Your Information
Many websites have the option to save your username, password, credit card information, address, and other personal information on the site so that you can check out more quickly in the future. While this option certainly saves you some time, it’s just not worth it. Saving information like this on your computer and on vendor websites, makes it that much easier for malicious entities to get a hold of your important information. All it takes is a moment’s slip in website protection on the company’s end to put your personal information in danger. For example, in April of 2011 over 75 million PlayStation users and 25 million PC and Facebook gamers had their personal information stolen as a result of a security breach on Sony’s part. While this incident may not have been very preventable from the consumers’ point of view, not saving your personal information on a company’s website or interface is one further step toward protecting your sensitive information.
Use Credit Over Debit
This isn’t advice you hear often, but, as far as online purchases go, credit is the safest bet. Credit cards offer protection from theft and fraud that debit cards cannot.
“Chase [credit] card members are not liable for any unauthorized purchases made with their cards,” Kennedy explained.
Debit card use online opens you up to potential inconveniences and monetary loss. If someone obtains access to your account, they can empty your checking account before you even notice. Most institutions will return as much of the stolen money as possible to you, but it can take a long time and you may not be fully reimbursed for the fraud. Stick to credit cards for online, as long as you use the proper precautions during the purchase.
Obviously, even following the best practices of online credit card use cannot always ensure your protection. There are going to be times that security fails on one end or another. Your absolute best line of defense from fraudulent behavior is staying educated on ways to secure your personal information online. It’s also important to be aware of your financial institutions policies are regarding credit card fraud.
Kennedy, explained that Chase uses “numerous” fraud detection tools to detect unauthorized transactions. But even Chase can encounter security problems.
Kennedy suggested consumers “be aware of suspicious emails that may ask for confirmation of a credit card number, PIN or other sensitive information, monitor your accounts regularly, online and through your statements.”
But there’s no substitute for your own vigilance: Review your transactions weekly or monthly and notify your financial institution if you notice anything suspicious. You should also review your credit reports once a year.
– Madeline Sanders, CMN Staff Writer