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Don’t let the Grinch (or credit card ID thieves) spoil your holidays

December 03, 2012 | Alliant Credit Union

Winter holidays are traditionally a time of festivities and gift giving, often paid for with a credit card. Participating in the season's hustle and bustle can be great fun, unless you experience a certain criminal kind of hustle - credit card fraud.

One in every 10 Americans has already been hit by identity theft, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Forty percent of that fraud is related to credit cards and another 7% have been victims of debit or ATM card fraud.

In the old days, most identity theft was caused by pickpockets and purse snatchers. Not anymore. Today, sophisticated crooks place skimmers on gasoline pumps and ATMs. Others work at restaurants or stores and slyly use pocket sized skimmers to swipe cards. In other instances, thieves swap a store's credit card reader with a modified one of their own - then, after capturing credit card information, they replace their machine with the original reader. Furthermore, there's the ongoing peril of using your credit card on a website that isn't secure.

But, despite these killjoy scenarios, you don't have to let an ID thief Grinch spoil your holiday cheer. You can take precautions (during the holidays and everyday) to avoid becoming a fraud victim and to diminish the damage if your card is compromised.

Take these 12 steps to prevent credit card fraud

  1. Use the "alerts" service on Alliant Online Banking and your other financial institutions so you can be notified when check or card transactions occur in your account. This will enable you to detect if any unauthorized transactions occur.
  2. Monitor your accounts weekly to detect - and report - any unauthorized transactions. 
  3. If your card has a PIN (personal identification number), then memorize it. Do not write it on the card or carry it in your wallet. Avoid selecting easy-to-recognize PIN numbers, such as your birth date, Social Security Number or phone number. And routinely change the PIN for your card.
  4. Avoid conducting business with unfamiliar online vendors. Look for sites with verified secure connections and updated SSL certificates (the lock icon on the payment page). Don't send credit card or personal identifying data via regular email. Make sure you have installed updated anti-virus protection software on your computers, so it will scan your system at least once a week. Never give out your credit card number over the phone unless you initiate the call with a reputable vendor.
  5. If an ATM looks suspicious or like it's been tampered with, don't use it.
  6. If you want to download an app, use a service, such as the iTunes® Store, which monitors apps.
  7. Tally up your charges before signing your receipt. Never sign a blank charge slip. Draw a line through any blank spaces that are above the total to be charged. Void incorrect receipts.
  8. Whenever possible, keep an eye on your card during in-person transactions. Then, as quickly as possible, get your card back and put it away. Shield your card so people around you don't have a chance to copy it or take a photo of it on their cell phone.
  9. Shred all credit card statements before you throw them out. Use online banking to pay to your bills. And make sure your contact information is current on all your accounts.
  10. Never use your credit card at shared or public computers, such as those in a hotel lobby or business center.
  11. Don't allow anybody else to use your card.
  12. If your card has been compromised, alert your financial institutions and consider contacting your local police.


Sources: Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Justice, The New York Times,,,

© 2012 Alliant Credit Union. All Rights Reserved.

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