At the start of a new year, the last thing we want to imagine is bad things happening to nice people. But it happens all the time, every day. It’s even happened to me – a forensic accountant.
A year ago, I received a call from our bank informing us that someone had used our credit card to purchase a flight to Turkey, order items from large online retailers, and even “presented” the card (which was still in my wallet) at a department store on the other side of the country. We were victims of a large, well-known retailer credit card breach and thus, our losses were not necessarily our “fault.” But the time I spent to resolve the situation and the stress it caused inspires me to share a few things you can do to avoid inadvertent theft of your precious financial information.
Here are four tips to outsmart the fraudsters and keep your money safe in 2017:
  •    When in doubt, use cash: Find a cute item from a street vendor or via a local public sales site like Craigslist? In addition to ensuring that you transact your business in a well-populated and safe location – like the parking lot of your local sheriff’s office or police station if they allow it – consider using cash to make the sale, rather than your credit card.
  •  Don’t allow your computer to save your passwords, credit card numbers or other pertinent information: A “handy” feature in many web browsers and telephones is the ability to save your name, address, credit card numbers, and passwords. With the constant pop-up asking whether you’d like to “save this password” for next time is so annoying, it can be tempting to just enter the information and forget it.Just say no. It would take only a simple breach of one of those sites (similar to the Target breach), malware installed on your machine, or worse, a lost device, to wreak havoc on your finances and literally give the keys to your kingdom to an unscrupulous person or ring of criminals.
  •  Review your Bank and Credit Card Statements: A timely review of your bank and credit card statements can quickly identify unauthorized usage of your cards, enabling you to stop payment on those transactions and close your accounts. Most banks and credit card companies provide you a 30-day window from the date the statement is issued to review and dispute charges. Be vigilant about reviewing those charges. Sometimes fraudsters will start with nominal charges. When those aren’t discovered, or disputed, fraudsters can be emboldened to make larger purchases or wipe out the entirety of your account.
  •  Know what’s in your wallet: A lost or stolen wallet is a nightmare to deal with. This unfortunate situation can be more efficiently handled if you have copied the front and back of each of the credit cards in your wallet, enabling you to quickly call your bank and credit card companies informing them of a potential breach.
In the busy and automated world we live in, it’s so important to maintain privacy – especially privacy of our pertinent financial information. These small, simple steps can help you protect yourself and your money. And if you ever see something amiss or get one of those unwelcome calls from your bank or credit card company, you’ll be fully prepared to stop the fraudsters in their tracks.