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Protect cards against theft

first_imgCindy, the friendly and efficient supermarket cashier, came running from the cash register next to the checkout line I was using this time. “Don’t do that,” she said excitedly, pointing to the credit card I was holding up to pay for my groceries. When the cashier who had totaled my order asked to see the card to verify my signature, I should have been more discreet. Somebody else, Cindy warned me, could sneak up behind me and make out my name and card number. Somebody with a cell phone could take a picture of the card and steal my identity. Far-fetched? Not at all. Stories like this are becoming commonplace in the disquieting world of identity theft, an insidious crime that victimized an estimated 10 million Americans last year. Among the people in the survey, the average amount of fraudulent charges was $3,968. While most victims eventually were not held responsible, 16 percent reported having to pay for some or all of the thief’s purchases. Most victims discovered the identity theft themselves by noticing unusual charges on their credit cards or discovering funds were missing from their accounts. Regarding credit cards in particular, here are some tips from consumer experts to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft: Whenever you give your card to a merchant, verify the card you get back is yours. Never give out your credit card number over the phone, unless you initiate a transaction (when making a hotel reservation, for instance). If you pay your credit card bill by mail, take the envelope with your check to the post office or drop it directly into a United States Postal Service mailbox. Don’t leave it in the mailbox outside your home with the flag up, an open invitation for thieves to steal it. Although many of us worry about security breaches online, most identity thieves steal your information the old-fashioned way, including rifling through your mail or even your garbage (that’s why you should shred rather than simply throw away old credit cards and financial statements). You are safer paying bills at a secure Internet site using encryption software than by mailing a check, which contains your bank account and routing numbers and can be stolen, said Mari Frank, an attorney and privacy consultant in Laguna Niguel, and author of “Safeguard Your Identity: Protect Yourself With A Personal Privacy Audit.” And you are safer still paying by phone using a land line, she said. Under federal law, you are liable for only $50 of fraudulent credit card charges if you notify the card issuer no later than 60 days after the first statement containing the unauthorized charge is sent. All major issuers would waive even the $50 and many give you more time to report a fraud, but they don’t have to. “That’s why you have to look at your statements carefully, and immediately check out anything that doesn’t look right,” Frank said. (The same protection does not always apply to debit cards, in which a fraudulent charge could empty your bank account before you notice it.) For additional information and tips on protecting yourself against identity theft, check out Frank’s book, the Web site of the not-for-profit Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, www.idtheftcenter.org, and the Web site of YourCreditCard companies, a partnership of major card issuers at www.yourcreditcardcompanies.com/forconsumers/fraud.asp. Humberto Cruz offers personal finance advice each Thursday and answers readers’ questions each Saturday. Write him at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Listen to a reader who picked up an order of pizza and paid with a Visa debit card linked to his checking account. The restaurant employee took the card, swiped and laid it on the counter. While waiting for the transaction to be approved, the employee made a call on his cell phone. “I noticed the phone because it is the same model I have,” the reader said. “Then I heard a click that sounded the way my phone sounds when I take a picture. Seconds later, I heard a chime that tells you a picture has been saved. “Now I’m standing there struggling with the fact this guy just took a picture of my credit card although the reader could not prove it. Needless to say, I canceled that card the minute I walked out of the pizza place.” The lesson? “Notice who is standing near you and what they are doing when you use your card,” the reader said. “I’ve already been a victim of credit card fraud and, believe me, it’s no fun.” It isn’t. A recent survey of 1,097 identity-theft victims by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. found they spent an average of 81 hours trying to resolve their case. And 28 percent still hadn’t succeeded, after an average of more than a year trying. last_img read more