I spend a lot of my time researching all the ways that cyber criminals can cause disruption in our industry. Cyber Crime and Wire Fraud are the most requested topics in Westcor’s education library. So when I received a call during a business trip telling me that one of my credit cards had been compromised, I just knew it must have been something that my husband had done. After all, I’m educated and aware of the common scams while he is not. I may not have been kind when I asked him what HE had done and why HE didn’t pay attention when I told him about the many ways a criminal can steal your credit card information. I’m sure he might have gloated a bit when he said quietly, “it was YOUR card”.
Of course I didn’t believe that MY card had been compromised. If for no other reason that I was 2000 miles away and had not participated in online shopping, in-person shopping or any doing anything else that could have put my credit card information at risk. In fact, the card had never left my wallet! Armed with this knowledge, I went on about my business comfortable in the fact that there was no way my card number could have been stolen. I was also certain that my dear husband must be mistaken, as HE must have caused the breach!
Fast forward to two weeks later at three o’clock in the morning. I received a text from another credit card company telling me that there was suspicious activity on my account. WHAT?! This was not the same account that had been compromised two weeks previously. I immediately contacted the company by phone, even though it was THREE AM, to have the nice person on the phone ask if I was in the process of making several on-line purchases from Adidas. “Ma’am….it is three o’clock in the morning in Denver. I am in the process of SLEEPING.”
Oddly, there was also a one dollar charge on the account that immediately preceded the suspicious activity on that card. I remembered that there was also a one dollar charge before the fraudulent activity on the other card that took place two weeks earlier. Even I couldn’t convince myself that this was a coincidence (and you know I tried!).
It turns out that my credit card numbers were stolen without the cards ever being removed from my wallet. It most likely took place at an airport, as airport visitors are prime targets for thieves that use credit card skimmers. According to the on-line money management magazine, Pocket Sense, credit cards that have a chip also possess a small antennae that allows it to transmit a radio frequency using a technology called “Radio Frequency Identification”, or RFID. The bad guys use a pocket-size radio frequency scanner or a smartphone with near field communication capabilities to steal credit card information. These scanners provide the thief with the credit card numbers, expiration dates, the secret identification (3 or 4 digit number, depending on the card type) and even the name of the card holder. From there it is a simple task to search for the card holder’s address and ZIP code and to start shopping. They almost always start with a $1.00 charge to see if the charges go through.
After cancelling all of my credit and debit cards, putting a “freeze” on my social security number to protect myself from having accounts opened in my name, notifying my identity theft insurance provider, and apologizing profusely to my husband for blaming him, I researched ways to protect myself from having this happen again. Experts recommend that you take the following steps to protect yourself:
• Remove unused cards from your wallet and keep them in a safe place at your home.
• Find a way to protect your cards from being skimmed by using an RFID-Blocking wallet or RFID blocking sleeves. Even wrapping a RFID enabled (chip) card in aluminum foil will protect it from scanners. I elected to purchase a package of sleeves from Amazon. These sleeves have a metal interior and are reported to make it impossible for a thief to scan the RFID from credit cards. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they work!
• Check your credit card statements DAILY. This will allow you to notice fraud immediately and cancel the card(s) before more damage is done. Although most credit card providers will not charge you for fraudulent charges, finding out about the theft on the same day that it happened saved us a lot of time and trouble.
Oh – and never assume that you are safe or blameless. The thieves are smart; it’s up to us to be informed and to protect ourselves!
Bettina Arthur | National Education & Training Manager