Kim Komando explains the five ways that criminals are coming after your credit cards. In this photo illustration there are three Mastercard Credit Cards. (Photo Illustration by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Despite credit card issuers pushing new security measures every year, credit card theft is still a rampant crime. In fact, Federal Trade Commission reports show a significant spike in credit card fraud from the first quarter to the second quarter this year, with about 110,000 reports.
Fraud, scams and data leaks are all on the rise. Not surprisingly, 2019 is on track to be the worst year yet for your privacy, online and otherwise. What do you need to watch out for? Click or tap here for 6 of the biggest scams fooling even the savviest internet users right now.
How can you stay safe in a digital world with hackers lurking around every corner? It starts with strong passwords to protect your accounts, and creating effective ones is about more than tossing in a capital letter and a number. Click or tap here for 5 rules you need to follow every time you create a new password.
Keeping your finances safe also requires diligence. Here’s what you need to know about five threats facing you and your card accounts. Let’s start with those sneak credit card skimmers, because they can be hard to spot.
1. Sneaky skimmers
Credit card skimmers sit directly on top of ordinary credit card slots and are designed to not interfere with their normal function. You can use what seems like a normal card reader and never know your data is being swiped by a scammer.
The most common locations for credit card skimmers are gas pumps and ATMs. After hours, they’re often left unmonitored, which makes it easy for criminals to install and attach a skimmer.
So how can you spot them? “Off-colored” plastic, irregular lights or awkwardly shaped readers can be a red flag, but many skimmers are so small and covert they’re tricky to spot. There are a number of different styles, all with their own tells, and I can help you identify them. Click or tap to see what money-stealing card skimmers look like.
How can you avoid these devious devices? Paying a cashier at the gas station is a great way to stay clear of skimmers at a high-risk location. When choosing an ATM, try to stick to machines attached to your bank instead of generic units and fine those locked behind doors at night.
2. Malicious merchants
Paying a cashier directly doesn’t rule out the dangers of merchant or point-of-sale fraud. Credit card skimmers or skimming software can easily be hooked up to a register, and reports of sketchy stores doing this are not uncommon.
One of the strongest options to fight retail fraud might be in your wallet right now: the EVP chip on your credit or debit card. Not every card uses a chip, but those that do are much harder to extract data from. Most skimmers scan the magnetic strip to extract your data, so your chip card can’t be copied in the same way.
You could also just opt to use cash over a card, but make sure to carry only a little more than you need. Having lots of loose bills on your person makes you more vulnerable to robberies and theft.
Don’t get taken advantage of. Your private information is for your eyes only. Click or tap for 4 essential steps to safer online shopping and banking to protect yourself from would-be scammers.
3. Horrible hacks at popular places
Establishments like fast food restaurants are becoming higher priority targets for hackers due to the sheer volume of money that passes through their doors each day.
Carrying cash is the safest method to avoid fraud, but another strategy is to use your credit card when you’re eating out or shopping instead of your debit card. Credit card limits can put a cap on how much a thief can steal at once. If a thief has access to your bank account, it’s possible for them to take you all the way to zero.
RELATED: Scammers aren’t the only ones with clever hacks. I’ve compiled 10 pro tips to help you speed up your Wi-Fi, spice up your Netflix queue, extend the life of your laptop and more. Tap or click for 10 essential digital life hacks you’ll wish you knew sooner.
Strong consumer protection laws for fraudulent credit card charges mean you’d be on the hook for $50, at most. The laws against debit card theft, though, aren’t as powerful. You can challenge transactions made with your stolen card, but be prepared to wait to get your money back. And you don’t alert you bank in time, you may take the entire loss on the nose.
Thieves will do whatever it takes to get your information but you don’t have to be a victim. Don’t sit by passively and let them steal your info. Fight back and shop smart.
4. Fear the free Wi-Fi
Everyone needs to use the internet when traveling, and hotel or coffee shop Wi-Fi is usually the default choice. When the Wi-Fi is free, that’s even better, right? Well, not so much.
As we’ve discussed before, free Wi-Fi has a host of its own security issues. It’s easy for network owners to monitor your activity, and even easier for outsiders and hackers to target the computer you use on the network. This goes double if you use free public Wi-Fi to shop or make purchases. Our advice? Wait to shop or bank until you’re on a secure network.
If you can’t wait, you mask your network activity with a VPN to hide your identity, protect your devices through encryption and keep hackers out. Click or tap for an in-depth guide on how VPNs work and how to set one up on a Windows PC or Mac.
5. Evil emails infiltrating your inbox
We can’t cover scams or hacks without talking about phishing — the most annoying and prolific cybercrime on the web. It’s so popular because it’s easy to do and requires the victim to “let the hacker in” on their own merits. It’s a classic bait-and-switch for credit card and identity info.
Most commonly, phishing schemes are found in your email inbox or on a social media platform like Facebook Messenger. Sometimes, the messages look like official government forms or corporate communications. One thing they all have in common? They link to another website to trick you into entering personal information.
Regardless of what the message or website claims, never enter any personal info online unless you’re certain the website is legitimate. You can usually tell by glancing at the address bar. If the url is long, complicated and doesn’t contain a familiar “.com” you know and love, it might be a fake.
And remember, be wary when opening an email or message from anyone you don’t know, and never follow suspicious external links or download unknown files. A sharp eye and natural skepticism is the best way to stay safe — both on and offline. Your wallet will thank you.
BONUS: 8 ways you’re ruining your Windows computer
We all use computers in one capacity or another, but that doesn’t mean we’re all adept at taking care of them. There are things we do time and time again that make it difficult to keep our machines in tip-top shape — like not running virus protection software or leaving tons of tabs open online so your performance is eventually dragged down.
There are a number of things you may be doing right now to ensure you’re fast-tracking your way to certain doom, in terms of your computer, anyway. We’ve assembled some useful tips to keep you from continually committing these eight Windows faux pas.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.