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Financial Education 101

Cyber Crime and Credit Cards

3 minute read

Credit cards can make life easier. They let you pay for items and services online, you can leave your cash at home when you go shopping, and when emergencies pop up, you can handle them even if you don't have enough saved. Unfortunately, credit card fraud is on the rise.1 Every cardholder should be aware of what cyber security measures to take to protect their card data.

Cyber security basics for credit cards

Cyber criminals commit credit card fraud in several ways:

  • Identity theft
  • Capturing credit card data when you use your card in a brick and mortar business
  • Obtaining credit card data remotely

Identity theft with credit cards

Identity theft involves someone pretending to be you and using your credit card to make purchases for themselves. This can happen in a variety of scenarios, including stealing a credit card that was sent to you in the mail, applying for a card under your name, or simply using a card you've lost.

Capturing data from the actual credit card

When you're at a store or restaurant, it's possible for a criminal to record your card's numbers, which is just as damaging as taking the card itself. Sometimes they use "skimmers," or plastic devices that go over the payment slot and download your card's data when you swipe your card. Other times, cashiers and waitstaff might write down your card number or even take a picture of it.

Capturing credit card data remotely

A common method of stealing your credit card information online is through a data breach. This is when hackers gain access to a business's computer system, which enables them to see and download all kinds of data, including their customers' Social Security numbers, names, addresses, and card information. Criminals use other methods to obtain your card details, including phishing scams and installing malware on your system.

Cyber security strategy for credit cardholders

Cyber criminals may be finding new ways to defraud credit cardholders, but there are several ways to protect yourself.

When it comes to the card itself, treat it with care. Don't leave it lying around or hand it over to someone you don't trust. Before swiping it through a card slot, make sure there's no skimmer attached, especially at the gas pump where skimmers are more easily accessible by fraudsters. (Although not all skimmers are easy to spot, consumers should be wary if the keyboard looks different from the rest of the ATM or gas pump or wiggles when you touch it.)2 Lock up cards in a hidden safe at home when you're not using them.3 Your credit card number, expiration date, and security code also should be closely guarded. Never send these numbers through email or relay by social media. Refrain from entering credit card information online when using a public computer or public WiFi.

With more than 80% of credit card fraud taking place remotely,4 it's important to be cautious when using your card online. Always double-check that a site is secure and isn't a fake version of a reputable site. Create a unique password every time you enter personal and financial information, and change your passwords often. Avoid phishing scams: never give out your card number or other personal details on a phone call or website unless you initiated the exchange.

Finally, make it a habit to monitor your card activity. Notify your card issuer if there's a credit card transaction you don't recognize, even for a small amount. Monitor your credit report regularly to make sure no new accounts have been opened in your name. Set up fraud alerts with your card issuers to stay updated as soon as they register suspicious activity. If fraud does take place, contact your bank or card issuer right away. Ask them to send a replacement, and destroy the compromised card. Also consider paying cash for small purchases, to minimize risk, or a digital wallet such as Apple Pay, which is more secure than using a physical card.

With diligent cyber security measures and a little luck, you should be able to keep credit card fraud to a minimum.

1 Steele, Jason (October 24, 2017). "Credit card fraud and ID theft statistics."
2 Ladika, Susan (June 7, 2018). "Gas Pump and ATM Skimmers: How to Spot and Avoid Them."
3 Rogak, Lisa. "10 Things You Should Know About Identity Theft."
4 Johnson, Allie (July 23, 2018). "How to Protect Your Cards and Accounts Online."
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This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors and/or medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit,(collectively, "Synchrony") makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.
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