Don’t put yourself at risk for credit card theft with these common mistakes.

3 minute read

Imagine this nightmare scenario: You log in to your credit card account to make your monthly payment and discover a string of unfamiliar charges to the account. When you investigate, you learn that someone has stolen your credit card number and gone shopping.

When a thief obtains your credit card number, fraudulent purchases may not end with just one shopping spree, either. Thieves can sell your credit card number to others, use it to sign up for a cell phone plan or load a bunch of gift cards to resell for profit.

Fortunately, your liability is limited to up to $50 if the actual card is stolen and used to make fraudulent purchases before you report the credit card as missing. If someone makes fraudulent charges after stealing only your credit card number, your liability is even less.

“If you have not lost the card itself, but someone steals and uses your account number, you generally have no liability for unauthorized use,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

When your credit card number is stolen, however, you still have to deal with the hassle of setting things right, including:

  • Contacting your credit card issuer to report the card as stolen and request a new card
  • Disputing fraudulent charges on your credit report with major credit bureaus
  • Monitoring your credit report for new, unauthorized transactions
  • Changing your credit card account log-in username and password
  • Freezing or placing a fraud alert on your credit if necessary

Of course, the best tactic is to make sure that no one steals your credit card number in the first place. Here are four ways thieves can steal your credit card information and how to stop them.

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Public Wi-Fi

Using public Wi-Fi is risky, since logging in to the guest network at your coffee shop or another public place makes it easy for a hacker to steal sensitive personal information. When using public Wi-Fi, avoid logging in to bank, credit card and other financial accounts.

Use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt data sent and received when using public Wi-Fi so hackers can’t get their hands on it.

Find out: 5 Identity Theft Risks You Should Never Take on Public Wi-Fi

Phishing emails and text messages

Never click on links in unsolicited “phishing” emails and text messages, no matter how lucrative the offer seems. Identity thieves love to use phishing emails and texts to get you to hand over credit card numbers, passwords to credit cards and other financial accounts and even your Social Security number.

When you click on phishing links, you also open the possibility of installing malware, malicious software programs that track your activity to gain access to passwords and other information used to access or open credit cards and bank accounts or take out loans under your name.

Find out: 5 Social Media Ads that Could Be Scams

Data breaches

A massive data breach at a retailer, hospital or other business puts you at risk of credit card and other types of identity theft. If your credit card information may have been compromised due to a data breach, major credit bureau Experian recommends taking these steps.

  • Monitor your credit report and credit card statements closely, watching for unauthorized transactions or accounts under your name. You can order a free copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Watch your mail for important notices and updates from the company that experienced the data breach.
  • Set up a fraud alert with major credit bureaus so potential lenders contact you before issuing a new credit card or line of credit in your name. Or you may want to request a credit freeze, which prevents lenders from being able to access your credit report.

Find out: How to Deal With Data Breaches

Paper statements in the trash

Never toss credit card statements into the trash or recycling bin. Instead, shred the document so that no one can dig it out and use your credit card number to make unauthorized transactions.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC