Help! There's Fraudulent Spending on my Credit Card
Credit card fraud is on the rise. If you’ve noticed fraudulent transactions on your credit card, here’s how to get your money back.
January 31, 2022
It’s an unsettling feeling. You get your credit card statement and notice transactions that you don’t remember making.
Credit card fraud is a common problem, and it’s growing. In 2020, more than 390,000 cases of credit card fraud were reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This represented a 57% increase over 2019 figures.
There’s no need to panic. As long as you report the fraud in a timely manner, you shouldn’t have to actually pay for any of these unauthorized charges.
This guide explores what to do when you think you may have been the victim of fraud. We’ll cover how to report credit card fraud, as well as how to prevent it in the future.
How to detect credit card fraud
To pick up on fraudulent transactions, you should be checking your credit card transactions frequently.
You should always review your statements when you receive them, but it’s also wise to check your online credit card transactions every week or two.
Look out for any transactions that look suspicious, or any that you don’t remember making.
However, do note that the name of the merchant on the transaction record won’t always exactly match the name of the business you purchased from. For instance, you may buy something from a local convenience store called “Stop n Shop,” but the billing record may be labeled “American Convenience Foods, Inc.”
Because of these discrepancies, it’s wise to check not only the merchant name, but also the date, location, and the amount of the transaction.
If you don’t recognize a merchant name, look at the date and the transaction dollar amount to see if you can remember making the purchase.
Finally, you should also check your credit reports at least once per year. Check for any outstanding balances, unrecognized debts, etc. You can download a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com.
How to report credit card fraud
You should report fraudulent transactions as soon as you spot them. As long as you report fraud using the proper channels, you shouldn’t be on the hook for any of the fraudulent charges.
Most credit card issuers will refund any fraudulent transactions, leaving you responsible for $0 of the unauthorized charges.
The Fair Credit Billing Act set the maximum consumer liability amount at $50. So even if there are thousands of dollars in charges on your card, you will pay a maximum of $50 in the end — as long as you properly report the fraud.
Here’s how to report credit card fraud:
Call the bank that you have the credit card through. Tell the agent that you believe there are fraudulent charges on your account. You will be asked to verify which transactions are legitimate and which are fraudulent and may have to submit documentation. The customer service agent will walk you through the process.
Request that your card be “frozen.” This means no new charges will be able to be made on the card, preventing further fraudulent transactions.
Contact the credit bureaus to notify them of the fraud. They can place a free fraud alert on your credit profile, making it more difficult for criminals to further damage your finances or credit.
Notify the authorities. Start by reporting the fraud to the FTC. You can do this online, or by calling 1-877-382-4357. If you believe that you may be the victim of identity theft (rather than just a stolen/lost credit card), you should report this ASAP to www.identitytheft.gov. You may also wish to report the fraud to local law enforcement, particularly if you suspect you may know who may have perpetrated the fraud.
As long as you report the fraud, you shouldn’t be liable for any of the unauthorized charges. At most, you could be liable for $50 worth.
The credit card issuer will typically open a fraud investigation into the reported charges. They will attempt to recover the money from the criminal, or in some cases from the merchant.
How long does a fraud investigation take? This depends on the size of the transactions and other details. But ultimately, once you have properly reported the fraud, your portion of the process should be complete.
How to prevent credit card fraud
The first step is to be aware of the common types of credit card fraud. Examples of credit card frauds may include:
Card theft, where your physical card is stolen and used illegally.
Card-not-present theft, where your card number and security pin is obtained illegally, and used online where the physical card is not needed.
Account takeover, where the criminal gains access to your account and changes passwords, pins and other information so that you no longer have access.
Skimming/cloned cards, where a device illegally installed on a credit card terminal can make a copy of your credit card information when you swipe it.
Once you understand what to look out for, you can avoid some of the most common scams. Here are some other tips and tricks to prevent credit card fraud:
Only shop online at secure websites. When shopping online, only purchase from trusted sources, and look for “https://” or a padlock icon in the website address bar to confirm that the site is secured.
Only provide your credit card information or SSN when it makes sense. If someone calls you asking for your information, it’s almost certainly a scam. Be wary of anyone who asks for your personal information.
Don’t carry more cards than you need to. If you have several credit cards, it may make sense to leave most of them at home. That way, if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, you’ll only have to track down potential fraud on one card.
Take precautions to protect your information. See our guide on how to protect yourself from identity theft for details.
Fraud on your accounts can be frightening. But as long as you report everything properly and take steps to protect yourself, there’s no need to worry.
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