What did you do this past week? If you stole credit cards, you had company. If you didn't, here's how to protect yourself.
The last day of June wasn’t a good one for Christopher Dwan Underwood. The retired Air Force senior master sergeant was charged with stealing more than 30 credit cards — from his fellow soldiers in military facilities around San Diego.
A few days earlier, credit cards were reported stolen from a nursing home in Orchard Park, New York, from a downtown parking garage in Lansing, Michigan, and from a chain of car washes in Connecticut.
During that same week, cops caught credit card thieves who were a lot younger than they are. New York police arrested 17-year-old for using stolen credit card numbers to further his education — “to purchase first-class airline tickets to Miami, where he visited Johnson & Wales University,” according to the local newspaper.
But that’s child’s play compared to a 12-year-old who used “hacked credit card information he found online” to donate $60,000 to his favorite “puppet/animation video series,” according to Credit.com.
What you can do this week to protect yourself
Avoiding credit card theft might seem as random as dodging a bullet in wartime. Shop at Target? Eat at PF Chang’s? You might have been a victim. But you can protect yourself, and last week’s thefts provide some clues…
1. Lock it up: That San Diego sergeant? He stole credit cards from military personnel “who left their belongings unattended during workouts on bases,” according to reports. While we’re always careful about our possessions in public, don’t trust your peers even in private, whether it’s a gym in your apartment complex or a gathering or your friends.
2. Trust but verify. In fact, don’t even trust your friends and family. If that sound harsh, the 17-year-old paid for his Miami college tour with cards stolen from people he knew. Police said,”One victim was a neighbor and the others are relatives.”
3. Pay cash where you can: The Michigan parking garage? That wasn’t a theft of actual cards, but of the numbers from customers who swiped their credit cards to pay for their spaces. These purchases are often so small, you don’t really rack up any credit card points from them.
4. Pay for peace of mind: Obviously, you should check your credit card statements for errors. But if you want someone else to do it for you, it’ll cost you. LifeLock, the best-known monitoring service, starts at $10 per month. CreditPower, the cheapest service, starts at $7 per month. We’re biased at Debt.com and suggest going for the lowest price, since they all do the same thing equally well.
5. Just say no: Go to OptOutPreScreen.com and opt out of receiving those annoying credit card offers in the mail — which thieves can manipulate to steal your identity.
6. Stay alert: If you’re worried someone may have made you a victim and you aren’t sure yet, consider a fraud alert. File it for free with one of the three credit reporting companies, and it’ll tell the other two. All three will then pay extra-close attention to any information requests about you, They’re easy to apply for and last 90 days, and you can renew them. Then again, they can make handling your own business (like getting a new job or mortgage) go much slower.
Let’s hope for a quieter July.