Personal Finance

These card companies offer best fraud protection

Who offers the best credit card fraud protection?

It's just something we take for granted—the company that gives us a credit card will do everything possible to prevent and detect the fraudulent use of that card. But, it seems, that's not always the case.

A new report from Javelin Strategy & Research finds that financial institutions are doing a much better job than retailers when it comes to credit card security. The researchers looked at policies and procedures in place at 24 of the country's top credit card issuers to prevent and detect fraud as well as handle a problem when something bad happens.

(Read more: After Target breach, the fight's on for smart cards)

"Retailers, common targets for data breach crimes, scored the lowest in prevention and among the lowest overall," said Al Pascual, the senior analyst who co-authored the report.

The three retailers reviewed in this study placed the lowest in prevention: Cabela's (29 percent), Target (22 percent) and Nordstrom (18 percent). Pascual said these scores indicate "inattention" to factors that could help lower incidents of fraud.

"To be honest, it seems like security isn't a major priority for retailer-issued cards," he told me. "When you compare that to what we see with general purpose cards, there's a very clear disparity between the two. If you have one of these store-branded cards, you should be a bit more concerned about fraud."

(Read more: Seven signs you're a victim of identity theft)

CNBC contacted Cabela's, Target and Nordstrom for their response to the Javelin report.

In a statement, Nordstrom said: "We take seriously our responsibility to protect our customers' information and work hard to provide them with personal service that addresses their specific needs and concerns when situations arise. We always pay attention to feedback we receive in this area and constantly look for ways to make improvements where necessary because this is so important to us and our customers."

Nordstrom noted that the Javelin study does not address important back-end systems that are designed to provide security, systems the retailer believes are "incredibly important and oftentimes more effective" in preventing fraud and unauthorized access to customer information.

"Without that as part of the analysis, the report does not give customers a complete picture. That said, we continue to review our processes and systems to ensure that we're doing everything we can to take care of our customers and the trust they have in us," the company said in its statement.

CNBC did not hear back from Cabela's or Target.

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And the winners are …

Bank of America was best in class for the seventh consecutive year with an overall score of 70 percent, significantly higher than the average score of 55 percent.

BofA was rated very strong on authentication—verifying that a customer is legitimate and not an impostor. It also has a comprehensive set of alerts that are automatically activated when someone becomes a customer. These include alerts for an unusually large transaction, a transaction in a foreign location or when someone takes out a cash advance against the card.

(Read more: Identity thieves gear up to steal your tax refund)

"That's great," Pascual said. "The customer knows best if something is fraudulent and BofA is not afraid to leverage that relationship to protect the account."

Best in prevention

Clearly, it's better for the bank and the customer to stop fraud, rather than deal with it afterward.

USAA earned the top score with 64 percent, up from 57 percent in 2012. USAA offers two-way alerts that notify the customer in almost real time of suspicious activity and let the customer respond—to tell the bank if the transaction is legit.

"This is a great feature to help prevent fraudulent transactions from being completed," Pascual said. "And it gives the bank information that will let them make future decisions about your spending pattern and if something might be fraudulent."

Bank of America was a close second in the prevention category, followed by Citi, Navy Federal Credit Union and State Farm tied for fourth.

Best in detection

Wells Fargo took this category. Its score of 83 percent is well above the industry average of 65 percent. Fifth Third Bank, First National Bank of Omaha and U.S. Bank tied for second place with a score of 80 percent. Nordstrom (77 percent) rounded out the top five.

Best in resolution

Associated Bank and SunTrust tied for the top spot with scores of 90 percent. Both banks will reverse a fraudulent charge or provide a line of credit within 24 hours of receiving a fraud report. BB&T, Pentagon Federal Credit Union and PNC were tied at 85 percent.

If you have a problem and report it, you expect to get help right away. Don't count on it.

Less than half (42 percent) of the card issuers in the survey respond within 48 hours of a fraud report. Javelin believes a delay of more than two days is unacceptable.

Credit card fraud is a massive problem. Javelin estimates that about 7.5 million Americans had their card compromised in 2012. The monetary loss from this fraud reached $8 billion. Remember, we all pay for credit card fraud, even if our card isn't misused, in the form of higher prices and higher bank fees.

A summary of Javelin's Ninth Annual Credit Card Issuers' Identity Safety Scorecard is available online for free.

—By CNBC contributor Herb Weisbaum. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @TheConsumerman or visit The ConsumerMan website.