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How to Avoid Credit Card Fraud

According to the National Fraud Information Center, credit card fraud in the U.S. takes an annual toll of slightly under $1 billion a year. But who pays the pricetag? We all do, in the form of higher finance charges, annual fees, and costs for law enforcement.

Con artists commit fraud by stealing and selling credit cards, using counterfeit cards, and operating mail order and telemarketing scams. Some thieves raid mailboxes and trash cans to find credit cards and account numbers. And some clever scam artists get this information through electronic eavesdropping and other high-tech means.

Although credit card companies are working to design more counterfeit-proof cards, you still need to take some simple precautions to outsmart con artists and avoid becoming another victim of fraud.

Protect Your Credit Card

Susie Sneak is an expert at robbing consumers' mail boxes for credit cards that have not yet been signed by their owners. She simply signs the owner's name on the card and heads for the shopping mall. The next day, she throws the card away and looks for another one.

  • Be aware of when your renewed cards and billing statements usually arrive so you can contact your card issuer if there's a delay.
  • Sign new cards as soon as they arrive. In a secure place, keep a record of all your card numbers, expiration dates, phone numbers and addresses of the card issuers.
  • Periodically check your cards to make sure none are missing.
  • Make it a practice not to lend your credit card to anyone. When giving your card to a salesclerk, keep it in view, and ask for it back promptly after an imprint has been taken.

Guard Your Credit Card Number

Gary Gullible received a phone call from a woman promoting discount vacation packages. All she needed was his credit card number and expiration date, she said, to include him in a 'special deal' for a Hawaiian vacation. Gary found out the offer was phony when he never received his airline tickets although his credit card was charged for them.

  • Never give your credit card number over the phone or computer unless you're dealing with a company you know.
  • Don't put your address and phone number on a credit card transaction form.Under Maryland law, businesses cannot record or even request this information as a condition of accepting your credit card.
  • If you pay by check, don't allow salesclerks to record your credit card account number. However, they are allowed to see your card and record the type (VISA, Mastercard, etc.) and the name of the issuer.
  • Memorize your PIN number (personal identification number) and don't keep it with your card. Don't select a PIN that someone could easily guess, such as your phone number or name.

Use Your Card Wisely

Harried Helen was holiday shopping when her wallet was stolen from her purse. She didn't realize until she got home that all ten of her credit cards had been stolen. She was sorry she hadn't left home the eight cards she rarely uses.

  • Avoid signing blank receipts. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total when you sign.
  • Destroy carbons and voided receipts immediately.
  • Save all credit card receipts in a secure place so that you can check them against each statement.
  • Carry only the cards you most frequently use, and leave the rest at home. If you don't use certain cards at all, cut them up and throw them away.
  • Notify your card company in advance of your change of address so new cards aren't sent to your old address.
  • If you lose your card or discover it's been stolen, call the card issuer immediately. Most have a toll-free number. By law, you're not responsible for any unauthorized charges from the time you report the loss or theft, so document the date and time you called. If the cards are used before you report their loss, the most you'll have to pay is $50 per card.
  • If you think someone's used your credit card or account number without authorization, notify the card issuer immediately.


Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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