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Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to fraud that costs the national economy billions of dollars. If you're a victim, it can wreak havoc on your personal finances. Luckily, many financial institutions have measures in place to help protect you from credit fraud. Experian also offers tools you can use to protect yourself from identity theft.
What Is Credit Card Fraud?
Credit card fraud is when someone uses your credit card or credit account to make a purchase you didn't authorize. This activity can happen in different ways:
- If you lose your credit card or have it stolen, it can be used to make purchases or other transactions, either in person or online.
- Fraudsters can also steal your credit card account number, PIN and security code to make unauthorized transactions, without needing your physical credit card. (Unlawful transactions like these are known as card-not-present fraud.)
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft involves the use of illegally obtained information about you, like your name, birthday, Social Security number, credit card numbers and more, in order to use existing credit accounts or open new ones in your name. When this happens, criminals capture the spending power of your credit while you get stuck with the bill.
What to Do if You're a Victim
Because credit card fraud can happen at any time, even when your card is still safely in your wallet, it's important to monitor all your credit card accounts regularly.
If you discover someone has made unauthorized charges on your credit card account, you should:
- Immediately contact the credit card company. While card issuers are constantly on the lookout for fraud and will investigate if you catch something they don't, most also offer zero-liability policies, meaning you won't be responsible for any fraudulent charges on your accounts. The Avant Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, among many others, offer fraud liability coverage for unauthorized purchases.
What's more, federal law limits your liability for fraudulent credit card charges. If someone uses your lost or stolen credit card before you report it missing to the card issuer, you can only be held responsible for $50 of any fraudulent charge. If you report the loss before the card is used, you're not responsible for any charges, nor are you liable if it's just the card number that's stolen and used.
- Change your online passwords and PINs to prevent fraudsters from doing any further damage.
- Closely monitor account activity, and consider contacting Experian to put an initial security alert on your credit report. This can be especially helpful if you're not sure how your information was compromised. Whichever credit bureau you contact will notify the other two major bureaus of your request.
- Keep an eye on your bank statements, and if you notice signs of fraud, notify your bank immediately.
- Request a copy of your credit report. Often, signs of fraud—such as new accounts you don't recognize—will show up on credit card statements first, soon to follow on your credit reports. When you request a fraud alert, you will also get a copy of your credit report. Did you know you can also get a free copy of your Experian credit report at any time, too?
If something you see causes you to believe you're a victim of identity theft (such as someone opening a credit card in your name), follow all the steps above, plus:
- Add a fraud alert to your credit report by visiting our fraud center.
- If you find fraudulent accounts or inquiries on your credit report, contact each creditor directly to make them aware of the fraud. If you're a member of Experian, you'll also have access to a dedicated Fraud Resolution Agent, who will work with you to correct fraudulent information with your creditors.
- Consider reporting the theft by filing a police report and document all contacts you make with credit bureaus, creditors and authorities regarding the crime. You can also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, which separately tracks identity crimes. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, immediately notify your bank and credit card companies. You should never carry your Social Security card with you, but in case it's lost or stolen, contact the Social Security Administration and consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report.
Types of Credit Card Fraud
Fraudsters are creative people, and they've come up with many ways to pilfer your personal information and destroy your hard-earned good credit, including:
- Stealing a credit card: You look away for a moment and your wallet disappears off the store counter where you placed it while making a purchase. Or, you forget to zip up your purse in a crowd and someone slips your wallet from your bag. When your credit card is stolen, you should immediately notify the card issuer.
- Using a lost or found credit card: Accidents happen and it's possible a card falls out of your pocket in a parking lot. Someone who finds the card could try to use it. Always report lost cards to the credit card issuer immediately to reduce the chance of someone doing damage to your balance.
- Account takeover: A fraudster can use personal information such as your home address, mother's maiden name, etc., to contact your credit card company or bank, pretend they're you, claim your card has been lost or stolen, or that you've changed addresses, and get the card issuer to send them a new card. Some issuers allow you to have a verbal password when calling them, and this could be a good way to help prevent this type of fraud.
- Counterfeit cards: After illegally obtaining your credit card account information with a device called a "skimmer," fraudsters can create and use a duplicate card. The increased use of chip-and-PIN (aka EMV) technology in the U.S. has reduced this type of fraud.
- Intercepting mailed cards: Although credit card companies try to protect cards in transit, a new card can still be stolen from your mailbox.
- Fraudulent applications: Using your name, birth date, Social Security number and other personal information, criminals can apply for new credit in your name.
- Card-not-present: As point-of-service fraud has decreased because of EMV technology, this type of fraud has increased, payment experts report. Criminals don't need the physical card in order to use it fraudulently. They only need basic info such as the credit card number and cardholder's name to commit mail order or online fraud.
How to Identify Credit Card Fraud
Fortunately, fraudsters leave signs that you can sometimes detect if you are vigilant. You may be more likely to spot credit card fraud if you:
- Review your billing statements every month to scan for unfamiliar charges.
- Watch for bills from unknown sources or calls from collection agencies for accounts you didn't open.
- Check your credit report regularly and look for unfamiliar inquiries, new accounts you didn't authorize or addresses of locations where you've never lived.
- Enroll in a credit monitoring or identity theft protection service.
If you find evidence of fraud on your credit report, visit our fraud center and dispute any unauthorized or suspicious information.
How Will Credit Card Fraud Impact My Credit?
Credit card fraud can negatively affect your credit, especially if it takes you a while to notice. The good news is you can minimize the impact by taking the steps noted above. Credit card fraud can affect your credit in following ways:
- Late payments on your credit report: If a fraudster uses your personal information to open a credit card with no intention of ever paying a bill, and that card is reported to the credit bureaus, your credit score could plummet. Payment history is the most important factor in credit scores, accounting for 35% of your FICO® Score☉ , the most commonly used credit scores.
- High credit utilization: If a fraudulent credit card, or one of your own cards, is being used to run up charges you didn't authorize, that can affect your credit utilization. Your credit utilization ratio, which measures the amount of credit you're using relative to your credit limits, is the second most important factor in your credit scores. If fraudulent activity raises your total credit utilization to over 30%, your credit scores could suffer, at least temporarily.
How to Prevent Credit Card Fraud
Although it's impossible to completely eliminate the chance you'll ever fall victim to evolving credit card fraud schemes, there are steps you can take today to reduce your risks, including:
- Keep your wallet or purse secure at all times to protect your credit cards from theft.
- Only carry the credit cards you actually need and use, and never carry your Social Security card on your person.
- When shopping online, only buy from reputable companies and/or ones whose security measures you can verify. For example, look for a web address that begins with https — the "s" indicates the site is secure.
- Only give your credit card number or personal information (such as your Social Security number) over the phone when you can verify you are talking to a trusted source.
- Explore our fraud and identity theft resource center online to learn about preventing fraud.
If fraud happens, you're not alone. You can get fraud victim assistance from multiple sources, including your bank, credit card issuer and credit bureaus. For example, when notified of fraudulent information on a credit report, Experian will provide a free copy of your credit report, investigate the allegedly fraudulent information, and if it turns out to be fraud, remove the information from your credit report.
Check out our Fraud FAQs to learn more about prevention, detection and remediation of credit card and identity fraud.
References / citations:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0213-lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-and-debit-cards