These days, more and more of our life is online. When it comes to our financial transactions—Web-based banking, online shopping, debit/credit card usage—the convenience of the Internet cuts both ways.
Not only is it easier to buy an Xbox from Amazon.com, but it's also easier than ever for thieves to gain access to your private information and steal your money. From credit card numbers to bank account statements to Social Security numbers to even your date of birth, criminals can use all of these pieces of information to make illegal purchases in your name.
It is extremely important that you protect your personal information and prevent this data from falling into the wrong hands. To avoid these problems, learn about the different ways you could be at risk—and what to do if you're the victim of a crime.
Shopping online is one of life's great pleasures, but it's not without risk. Whenever you use your debit/credit card online, make sure the site is secure—not just that they claim to be secure. You also want to be leery of any site that claims payments need to be made via cash or wire transfers. If it feels sketchy, it probably is.
Credit Card Fraud
There's nothing more disheartening than opening your credit card statement to find that someone else enjoyed a shopping spree on your dime—$800 in new cellphones? Uh oh.
Always be sure to keep your credit/debit card account numbers and PINs private. Every time your credit card statement arrives, go through all charges carefully. If you see anything suspicious, contact your financial institution right away.
Also, be sure to shred these statements as well as any paperwork from your bank that you don't need to keep for your records. Do not throw this sensitive information out in the regular trash.
Hmm. A Nigerian prince needs my help, and for just $100, I'll get thousands in return? Yes, people really do fall for this stuff. These types of scams are often known as "phishing"—and the perpetrator's goal is to catch your information.
Any email that asks for your personal banking info is probably a scam. Any individual claiming to represent a foreign nation that needs your help is probably a thief. Fortunately for you, there's a very easy way for you to deal with these "too good to be true" email offers: It's called the "delete" button. Use it.
These messages will sometimes seem more legit, indicating that there's been fraud on your account or that you've missed a payment. In these instances, the phone number or website where the email directs you may not be affiliated with your actual financial institution. Instead of using this contact information, visit the company's official website and reach out via the methods listed there.
What To Do When You've Been Scammed
No matter how diligently you protect yourself and keep your financial information private, you can still fall victim to fraud. If this is the case, don't be embarrassed; it’s happened to smarter people than you. But you do not want to drag your heels. Deal with this stuff right away before a small problem becomes a big one.
If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, online fraud, or an email scam, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NC3). They have information about different kinds of fraud as well as forms to help you file a complaint.
If you believe you are the victim of credit card fraud, contact your bank or credit card company immediately. You want to be sure that all unauthorized transactions are flagged right away. Your cards will probably be frozen and new cards issued. Also, be sure to review your credit report at least once a year with an eye out for any suspicious information.