It's not just ransomware cyber-attacks from the likes of WannaCry that you to worry about: payment card fraudsters are growing bolder as the digital age opens up new uses - and new vulnerabilities - for digital devices.
According to CreditCards.com, credit and debit card fraud alerts are up 15% from 2015 to 2017. Separating the two versions of payment plastic, "31% of U.S. adults have received a fraud alert regarding a credit card and 25% have received one concerning a debit card," the report states.
Cyber-thieves appear to prefer stealing credit card data.
"Fraudsters seem to be swinging for the fences, focusing their efforts on high-value targets," notes Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "And it's not only more affluent and more educated households. Credit card limits typically exceed checking account balances. I think that's why credit card fraud alerts outpace debit card alerts even though debit transactions outnumber credit transactions on a two-to-one basis."
CreditCards.com notes not all payment card fraud alerts are direct breaches - 37% of Americans who have received card fraud notifications say the purchases in question were "legitimate."
That still leaves plenty of alerts that involved instances of payment card fraud, and when that happens, cardholders need to know what steps to take to address the problem.
"The first thing a consumer should do, if they receive a credit or debit card fraud alert, is to call the specific credit or debit card issuer, or in the case of an alert from a credit bureau then all credit or debit issuers should be contacted," says Scott Salaske, founder and CEO of Paymently, LLC in Troy, Mich.
The consumer should also inquire about any recent charges for each card to determine if the charges are legit, Salaske adds. "If legit, let each card issuer know that possible credit or debit card fraud has been committed on one or more of the consumer's accounts," he says. "To be even more secure and safe, ask each card issuer to cancel the exiting cards and reissue new cards with a different account numbers and ask the new cards be sent via overnight delivery such as Federal Express."
Additionally, if the fraud alert did not come directly from a credit bureau "then the consumer should definitely contact each of the three major credit bureaus and alert them to possible fraud on one or more of the consumer's credit or debit card accounts," Salaske says.
There are several additional actions you can take to protect yourself, offers Michael Millington, a blogger and security specialist with Guardian Debt Relief, a debt relief provider based in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Many credit and debit card issuers have the ability to let you freeze (i.e., deactivate) your card for whatever reason," Millington says. "Freezing your card when you feel that you're the victim of fraud can stop further purchases or withdrawals from being made."
On the other hand, if you've received a false fraud alert, which can happen, the simple and best fix is to contact your bank and approve whatever transaction they flagged. "Mostly it'll happen for a large purchase, large withdrawal, or an unusual purchase (like for 15 pizzas out of nowhere) that doesn't fall in line with your transaction history," Millington adds. "A simple confirmation will set everything right."
A little advance work can help consumers better protect their payment cards, as well.
Elle Mejia, a corporate and motivational speaker, and the founder of the #PrettyGirlsWork platform, says setting up the alerts that are available - often for free - is a smart step.
"My credit card company actually has a feature that sends me a text message every time a transaction is pushed through on my card, in real time," Mejia says. "I get a text message every time I swipe, tap, or type in a purchase online. So, if my phone buzzes and it wasn't me, that's my cue to shut the card down."
In that case, call the card company, put a fraud alert on the card to disable it, and change all online and mobile passwords immediately. "It will make for a day or two of inconvenience, but moving fast on an alert minimizes the damage to your bank account and your good name," she says.
Going forward, start checking your credit and bank accounts at least once per week to verify all payment activity, advises Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder of Chargebacks911 in Clearwater, Fla.
"This will enable individuals to keep tabs on their accounts and spot suspicious activity while it's still early," Eaton-Cardone says.
With financial fraudster stepping up efforts to breach credit and debit cards, consumers need to match those efforts and step up their own game to thwart payment card criminals.
Using the tips above can help consumers even the score, and better protect their plastic from payment card pirates.