Credit Skimming & Other Forms of Credit Fraud

Several times a day, without even realizing it, we hand over some of our most sensitive information to strangers: our credit card numbers.

But the growing scam known as credit skimming can make a victim out of anyone, as security expert Jim Stickley proved. He posed as a waiter to demonstrate the ease of credit skimming and was able to secretly copy using a tiny scanner someone’s credit card data, including their name, card number and expiration date, which he then transferred on to a hotel room keycard. After that, the keycard held the same data as the credit card, and Stickley could do with it what he wished.

Appearing on Thursday’s show, Stickley recommended using credit cards over debit cards to give an added layer of protection against credit skimming. If a scammer gets a hold of your credit card, you have a much easier time disputing the charges than if they have your debit card – in effect, your bank account.

Skimming, actually, is a form of a broader scam known as account takeover. John Ulzheimer explains that is when someone steals an existing card and uses it as long as they can before you notice it’s missing and shut it down. Fortunately, you have very little liability if you report it as soon as you notice. This is less damaging because it doesn’t bleed over into your credit reports and scores.

Then there’s true name fraud, which Ulzheimer calls the “brass ring for thieves.” This is when someone actually tries to impersonate you and open new accounts in your name that you don’t know about. This is where the big money is for scammers. In fact, some of them will actually pay your bill on time for years in order to get the lender to increase your credit limits to several thousand dollars. Then they nail you.

Ulzheimer recommends investing in credit-freeze services, which are not very expensive and protect you much better than credit monitoring services. In a credit freeze, you order the credit bureaus to take your credit reports out of circulation so that no new credit can be extended. TrustedID, Equifax and TransUnion all offer the service. You also have to make sure you are not going to apply for new credit. You can order your report to be thawed and then re-frozen after the lender pulls your report.

Pay attention to the mail you get in January, as this is when all your year-end high-value statements come. If you’re missing a statement of any kind, pick up the phone. The old-fashioned way of stealing mail out of the mailbox is still the most common form of identity theft.