Scenario: You’re at home watching holiday movies when you get the dreaded call from your credit card’s fraud department, “Are you trying to buy athletic shoes in London?” “No, I’m not in London,” you reply. The credit card company agrees to disallow the charges from London, cancels the card, and issues you a new card with a new account number. Now what?
Don’t panic. Your credit card number was stolen. You may never know who, how, or when. Luckily, the major credit card companies have fraud departments that identify charges that don’t fit customer spending patterns, so a lot of credit card fraud is stopped in its tracks.
If you get the dreaded fraud department call, review your latest credit card and bank statements. If you see any charges that you did not make, dispute them immediately. Your statement has instructions and a phone number for disputing unauthorized charges. You can report unauthorized charges with a phone call. Look especially for small items. Some thieves make test charges of a few dollars to see whether the victim will detect them before making large purchases.
Check your account activity frequently – especially during the holidays. Most financial institutions provide systems that allow consumers to check credit card and bank account activity online.The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers who report unauthorized charges by limiting their liability to $50. In practice, major credit card issuers usually waive the $50 when a consumer reports the unauthorized charges quickly.
Report any mistakes on your bill. Occasionally, vendors make mistakes. If you were charged $250 for a $25 meal, report it. You may be able to dispute the charge by phone; however, the Fair Credit Billing Act requires you to dispute billing mistakes in writing. Follow up the call with a letter confirming that you dispute the charge and why. Disputed charges will be removed from your bill pending the credit card issuer’s investigation.
Check your credit report. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com where you can get a free credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus.
Just. get. one.
While each company’s report may be slightly different, you can only get one free report per year from each credit bureau. So, spread them out. Get a free report from one bureau every 4 months. If you see anything that does not belong to you, dispute it immediately in writing. Remember, free credit reports are available at www.annualcreditreport.com. Sites named “freecreditreport.com” and the like are not free. Those sites lure consumers with the promise of something free to sell credit monitoring or other services.
Sadly, credit card fraud happens. Be proactive. Check your statements carefully, monitor your credit card and bank account activity online, dispute any unauthorized charges or mistakes, and, most of all, enjoy the holidays!