2009-06-26 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Protecting Yourself from Credit Card Fraud
By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER We've all seen the commercials. A tough-looking biker sits on his motorcycle gleefully boasting about how he just acquired a completely new wardrobe of women's clothes and gets monthly manicures, pedicures, and spa treatments, all for free. While these may provide us with a little bit of humor during commercial interruptions, they are also providing us with a good lesson: beware of credit card fraud.

Many of us think "Oh, that can't ever happen to me." However, getting control of someone else's credit card information is easier than one might think. A thief can go through your trash to find old receipts or documents with your card numbers on them. A dishonest employee at your favorite restaurant may write down your card number prior to returning the card to you. You receive a phone call from a telemarketer claiming to be affiliated with a company you have done business with in the past telling you that your subscription or warranty is about to expire and before you know it, you receive a credit card statement with thousands of dollars worth of charges that you did not make.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself. When you receive new cards in the mail, sign the back as soon as they arrive. Carry your cards separately from your wallet in a business card holder, zippered compartment, or other small pouch so that if you lose your wallet you still have your cards. Keep a record of all of your cards, their numbers and expiration dates, and the 24-hour customer assistance line of the card issuer so that if you do lose the cards you will know who to call. Keep track of your receipts and compare them to your monthly statement. Shred or otherwise destroy old receipts, carbons, and any other papers that may have account numbers or other personal information on them. Do not put old cards in the garbage whole—cut them into pieces. Keep your card in your possession—do not ever lend it out and when you use it in a transaction be certain the merchant gives it back to you promptly. Only use your card with merchants and companies you know to be reputable; if you are unsure about a company, check with the Better Business Bureau, the State Attorney General's office, or your local consumer protection office. If you have online accounts with your credit card company or your bank, use passwords that will be hard for others to guess and keep them safe; do not use your name, birthday, spouse's name, or the word password.

If there are charges on your credit card statement that you didn't make, if you lose your card, or if you suspect you have been the victim of credit card fraud, immediately call your credit card company or the entity that issued your card; most companies have 24-hour toll-free numbers for such emergencies. By law, once you notify the credit card company, you are not liable for any further charges. Furthermore, under federal law you are only liable for $50 per card, but some card issuers will waive this.

For more information about protecting yourself from credit card fraud, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1- 877-FTC-HELP (1-877- 382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. You may also contact your credit card issuer.

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