Getting that dreaded phone call that there has been suspicious activity on your bank account, or checking your finances online and noticing charges that weren’t yours is a terrible feeling. And while that pit in your stomach may linger for a while, grit your teeth and buckle down, because it’s time to fight the perpetrators and hopefully regain your losses.
Here you’ll learn how the breach likely happened so you can protect yourself in the future, what steps you should take immediately after noticing the stolen funds or information, and security measures to take to prevent this from happening again.
How it Happened
Here are a few of the most common scams that aim to steal your credit card and personal information. If you recognize any of this activity in your life, it is likely that is the source of the breach.
Restaurant scam: A thief gets hired as a waiter or waitress in order to skim credit cards on a small, personal skimmer when the card leaves the presence of its’ owner. The information is stored on this device and then used or sold on the black market.
Gas station, ATM, or parking meter skimmer: During less-busy times of the day, thieves will place skimming devices over the card readers at gas pumps, ATMs, or parking meters. These usually work via Bluetooth to send the information to the perpetrator, who is set up nearby with a computer to receive all of the information.
Infected websites: Hackers will install malware on low-security websites that will steal any information you enter there, so you can imagine that shopping sites are prime targets. They may also install malware on public computers in the hopes that someone will enter personal information there.
Email malware: Email scammers are getting more advanced and sending what appears to be legitimate emails from banks, credit card companies, or even from people on your contact list. These emails often report of suspicious activity on your account and ask you to click a link to verify your information. But that link then installs malware, often containing spyware, that records your every keystroke.
Steps to Take Immediately
When you discover fraudulent charges or that your information has been stolen, here’s what you should do:
- Call your financial institution. They will immediately freeze your account or cancel the card and issue a new one. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you won’t have to pay more than $50 for fraudulent charges that you find. If you report your card as lost or stolen before any charges are made, you won’t be held responsible for any charges that are made before the card can be canceled. Similarly, if your information is stolen but not the card itself physically, you will not be responsible for any fraudulent charges made.
- Change your passwords. Visit every online profile you have, especially on shopping websites, and change your passwords to something completely different and much stronger.
- Call the credit bureaus to set up fraud alerts. This means that they will notify you to verify any credit requests for a certain period of time to ensure your information isn’t still being used without authorization.
- Notify law enforcement. Filing a report may not lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, but creating a paper trail can help protect you from future breaches. However, a record of the breach may help authorities identify a pattern and enhance security.
Precautions for the Future
Once you’ve done the above steps, implement the following tips into your regular routine to help prevent any future pilfering of your personal information:
- Enable alerts from your credit card or banking account so you’ll be notified immediately of any suspicious behavior
- Create strong passwords, and don’t use the same one for everything
- Don’t store credit card information online, even on websites from which you regularly shop
- Make it a habit to log online to your bank account every day and verify each transaction you see
- Don’t input private information on public computers
- Only shop on safe, verified online websites with established merchants