You receive an e-mail that seems to be from your web host and appears legit. It doesn’t have the typical scam e-mail red flags: no misspelled words or broken English, no threatening urgent language or suspicious attachments. The e-mail claims there’s a problem with your debit or credit card payment information, asking you to contact their Payment Department or something similar and update your card information. There’s even a convenient link to do so. You click the link, and enter your card number. A few days later, you check your card statement and see several large purchases from electronic stores that you did not make. You’ve been successfully scammed.
Scammers and thieves abound, both on the street and in cyberspace. So, what can you do to protect your debit and credit cards? Here are some tips to help you keep your card information out of the hands of crooks.
Protecting your physical card
Keeping your physical card safe is one of the best ways to protect against card theft. Once someone has your physical card, he also has all the information needed to make fraudulent purchases: card number, expiration date and CVV security code.
- Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in your wallet or purse makes it more likely one could get stolen without you noticing.
- Thieves can take pictures of your card with a camera or cell phone, so don’t leave your card exposed any longer than necessary.
- After you make a purchase, put your card away immediately. Confirm you have your card back in your possession before you leave a store or restaurant.
- Don’t carry your card in your pockets.
- Don’t sign blank card receipts. Always verify the amount on your receipt before signing it. If the receipt has blank spaces in it, write $0 in those spaces or draw through them before signing.
- Keep your bank or credit union’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is lost or stolen. The faster you report the theft, the faster your card issuer can shut down the card.
Protecting your card at home
Your home is another place thieves can steal your card information. Here are some ways to keep your card safe:
- Receiving paper statements in the mail, and letting them sit in your mailbox, increases the risk of mail theft. Sign up for eStatements so you can avoid paper statements putting you at risk. It’s also a good idea to collect your mail daily and put a hold on it with the post office when you go out of town.
- Shred old bills and card statements; don’t just throw them in the trash. Scammers are not above dumpster diving to steal card numbers.
- Be wary of the information you share over the phone or via text. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call or text—and not calling because someone left a voicemail or sent you a text—you should never share your card number over the phone. Scammers often pose as customer service reps from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. If this happens, hang up and call the institution yourself using the main number.
Keeping your cards safe online
- Never provide your card information via a link in an e-mail alleging to be from your financial institution or a merchant, even if it’s where you shop often. Scammers are savvy and can make e-mails and even websites look legitimate.
- Pay attention to the actual e-mail address. Fake e-mails will often have a normal looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your e-mail. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual e-mail address that sent the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same e-mail address format that you’d see from a legitimate company.
- Look for suspicious URLs. If you hover over a link (don’t click!) in an e-mail, you will see the URL that the link goes to. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (not http://) and show a padlock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, do not enter your card information.
- Use strong, unique passwords at websites, especially financial institutions and merchants where you use your card. Keep your passwords safe; do not keep them written down in plain sight or easily accessible by others.
- Be wary of linking your cards to peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile payment apps such as CashApp, Venmo and Zelle. Scammers have adapted their tactics to take advantage of the quick and often anonymous access to cash that they provide. Click here for help avoiding being scammed when using payment apps.
- Enroll your card to your device’s Digital Wallet, so you can make secure payments online or in stores using your cell phone and not your physical card. Your payment information is never shared with merchants or stored on your device.
- Set up credit card and debit card alerts and controls, so you can be notified of certain activities on your account.
Recognizing card skimmers
Skimmers are small devices placed over a legitimate card scanner, such as on an ATM or gas pump. When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record your PIN as you enter it.
Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it. Other red flags are scanners that jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a key pad that appears thicker than normal. If anything seems suspicious, do not insert or swipe your card or enter your PIN and conduct your business elsewhere.
Check transactions daily
It’s good practice to check your debit and credit card transactions and statements daily. That way, you can find fraudulent transactions right away, and stop scammers in their tracks. Save your receipts to compare against your statement.
If you notice purchases that you don’t recognize, or any other suspicious card activity, contact your card issuer immediately.
How Tower Protects Your Card Information
- SmartControls™ – Set up card alerts and controls about certain credit card activity, like foreign purchases or large transactions. If you’ve misplaced your credit card, you can temporarily decline all transactions with the Card Stop Control.* Login to Home Banking or our Mobile App and select Mastercard, Account Services.
- Zero Liability Protection – You don’t have to worry about unauthorized purchases if reported in a timely manner, because your Tower debit and credit card includes Mastercard’s Zero Liability Protection.
- 24-Hour Phone Service – If your Tower credit card is lost or stolen, call 866-570-1238 in the U.S. From outside the U.S., call 515-457-2082. To report fraudulent activity or to dispute a credit card charge, call 866-570-1238 in the U.S. From outside the U.S., call 515-457-5584. If your Tower debit card is lost or stolen, call 301-497-4000 or 866-56-TOWER.
- Debit Card Controls – If you lose your debit card, Debit Card Controls allows you to lock your card until it is found. It’s easy to lock or unlock your card by using the ON/OFF switch in Home Banking or in Tower’s Mobile App.
- 24/7 Fraud Monitoring – Tower monitors your card activity 24 hours a day for any suspicious or unusual activity.
- Paperless statements – Avoid paper statements sitting in your mailbox or falling into the wrong hands with secure eStatements, available in Home Banking.
*The Card Stop Control will temporarily decline all transactions including those that are recurring.
Resources: Federal Trade Commission, Wisebread.com, TheBalance.com