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As soon as new chip-enabled or EMV cards were rolled out by credit companies late last year, the FTC issued an urgent warning. Con artists were taking advantage of the debut of chip cards to impersonate card issuers and request the confidential personal and financial information of consumers. At the beginning of this year, the AARP and other groups reemphasized that consumers need to be cautious, repeating those warnings. Many Americans are getting scammed by clever, resourceful criminals as the distribution of new cards expands. But, luckily, there are simple ways to protect yourself.
Why the Scam is So Effective
The scam is not as easy to detect as those that ask you to accept a bank wire transfer of the fortune of an African king in exile or wealth from your long-lost uncle. These credit card imposters are slick, and they do an effective job of presenting themselves as representatives of major credit card companies like American Express or Visa. The emails they send typically include the same graphic layout, color scheme, and logo of those real card issuers.
They may add cleverly convincing details like legal disclosures and consumer privacy statements at the bottom of the message. Some ask you to simply click on a website link in order to receive your newly upgraded credit card. But if you click, you unknowingly trigger a silent download of malware that will attack your computer or other device to steal confidential information. Clicking could also take you to a fraudulent site that looks legitimate but is run by criminal hackers.
Tips for Protecting Yourself
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that if you receive such an email, immediately pick up the phone and call the customer service number on the back of your credit. Tell them about the email, and ask the representative for more details. They will likely tell you they didn’t send it, because credit card companies and banks never request those kinds of details by email, and neither do services like PayPal.
Never give personal information via email, even if you believe it is to a bank or credit card company. Only do that after you have securely logged-in to your account on their official website, or when you are speaking to an authorized customer service representative by phone after calling the number on the back of your card.
What if you receive a phone call or text from your card company? In that case it could also be a scam, so the prudent thing to do is to tell the caller you need their full name and that you will call back via the number printed on your credit card. The same goes for a text. Just ignore it until you speak to someone using that all-important customer service number printed on your plastic.
Security Protocols Everyone Should Follow
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also has smart tips to help you safeguard your credit cards and financial identity.
Regularly check your accounts for unauthorized charges or debits. Sometimes fraudsters process very small charges against your account, hoping you won’t notice. Over time those dollars and cents add up, or the criminals may test your defenses with small increments of withdrawals and then hit you with a huge charge or withdrawal before they vanish into thin air.
Contact your bank or card provider immediately if you suspect an unauthorized debit or charge. If a thief charges items to your account, you should cancel the card and have it replaced before more transactions come through. Even if you’re not sure that PIN information was taken, consider changing your PIN just to be on the safe side. If you believe you have been the target of a fraudster at your home, you can also contact the local police or your state’s Office of the Attorney General.
Other Helpful Steps You Can Take
Shred all the correspondence from financial institutions that you do not need to retain, and if you retain copies keep them in a secure location no unauthorized person can access. That includes shredding of junk mail or credit card offers, which can be used by resourceful scammers to steal from you.
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies. Under federal law you are entitled to receive a free credit report from each reporting company once every 12 months. By requesting the reports at the same time, the CFPB points out, you can determine whether any of your files have errors. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit files more frequently throughout the year.