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6 Steps To Protect Your Financial Self

Dina Wohlhendler isn't a very common name. So when the Brooklyn resident saw her name on another shopper's credit card at a Manhattan Best Buy, she chased the woman while shouting for help. Chase had already alerted Wohlhendler about an unauthorized purchase at Urban Outfitters, which led her to check the nearby electronics store. Surveillance tapes showed the suspect pickpocketed Wohlhendler's credit card before a fast, fraudulent shopping spree.

Cases like Wohlhendler's remain rare, according to author and security expert Chris McGoey. "Some people don't even know for a while that their credit card has been stolen," McGoey tells CardRatings.com. Despite banks' best efforts, McGoey says that credit card fraud represents one of today's biggest consumer threats. Here are six things you should be doing to protect your financial identity.

1. Don't let others use your card

"People are highly likely to lend credit cards out to family members, friends, or assistants to run errands and such," McGoey says. While convenient, this practice means you're not always in control of your card's security. With skimming rings operating at retailers and restaurants, you may not know enough about your own card's activity to help investigators track down thieves. Instead, ask your bank to issue additional cards with their own spending limits, embossed cardholder names, and security features.

2. Always keep your card with you

Boca Raton, Florida detectives posted a YouTube video of suspects who used credit cards found in a stolen car's glove compartment to buy $311 in goods at a pharmacy. California detectives recently reported five cases in a single day that involved credit cards swiped from cars parked at tourist areas near Half Moon Bay. To avoid hassle after a smash-and-grab, McGoey says, keep credit cards with you at all times.

3. Split your expenses across multiple credit cards

You can help your bank spot phony charges faster by using a different card for each area of your life. Use one card for in-person purchases, another for online purchases. That way, if a restaurant skimmer clones your dining card and tries to use it for airline tickets online, your credit card company may have an easier time identifying the fraudulent activity. Carry just your in-person card and a backup credit card, so you have fewer calls to make if thieves snatch your wallet.

4. Verify the source of any inbound call from your bank

Criminals sometimes pose as bank officials or even police investigators to trick you into giving up crucial account information over the phone. Capital One spokeswoman Sukhi Sahni says consumers shouldn't feel pressured into giving up their identities to a mystery caller. "When we notice fraudulent activity on an account we contact the customer right away to verify if they made the transactions," Sahni says. "During the course of any such conversation our customer service associates can provide sufficient identifying information to alleviate any customer concerns."

Legitimate investigators already have your information, and they won't ask for details like your account number or your PIN. If you're worried, Sahni says, hang up and dial the number of the back of your credit card. Discover spokeswoman Katie Henry describes a similar policy. "Customer service and security ensure the call makes its way back to a prevention agent," Henry says. "Not necessarily the original calling agent, but one who can complete the task initiated with the outbound call."

5. Review your statements and credit reports

A recent J.D. Power consumer survey found that about half of American credit card fraud victims spotted false charges on their statements before their lenders could get involved. Many banks now offer free text alerts that can zap transaction details to your wireless phone, almost in real time. Contact your bank immediately if you don't recognize a charge. Also, make it a point to check your credit report to ensure nobody else has opened a fraudulent account in your name.

6. Keep a secure, master list of your accounts and contacts

"Know how many credit cards you have," McGoey says. "Make copies of the front and back of each credit card, and keep those documents somewhere safe in case you need to file a claim." Along with those documents, McGoey recommends storing information about who to call and what steps to take when a credit card goes missing or gets compromised.

When you have that information handy, banks can replace your cards quickly. "We can get a card to a Cardmember the next day if it is ordered before 3:30PM and not before the weekend," says Discover's Henry. "Under emergency or urgent situations we can get our customer a card within 24 hours," says Capital One's Sahni. Otherwise, most banks can mail replacement cards within about a week.

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