Recently, I was balancing our sometimes precarious budget and there was a charge I didn't recognize. It was from the store WomanWithin. I asked my wife if she had bought anything there and she hadn't. Now, unless I had ordered women's clothes for myself while sleep-walking, we had a problem.
Unless you live in a cave, you know somebody (a family member, friend or coworker) who has had their credit card number stolen. The feelings of vulnerability and financial worry immediately drive up your Pepcid AC consumption. After you get things sorted, you may resolve to never be a victim again. However, once you start educating yourself on the attack vectors, it quickly becomes apparent that your defensive actions can't guarantee your safety. High-tech ATM and gas pump skimmers, data breaches, even shady restaurant employees are hard to foil. Going head-to-head with professional criminals is like playing whack-a-mole with your non-dominant hand after taking Ambien.
I believed GI Joe when he said "Knowing is half the battle," so although the criminals have more ammo, arming yourself with some basic knowledge of scams makes sense. However, if you have time for only one tactic, I think it should be this - track all your credit card purchases in real-time and do a monthly true-up. Today there are several free or affordable apps (YNAB is my favorite) that allow you to enter and track your purchases on your phone and computer. The key is to enter as many charges as you can at the point of purchase. In this way, you will have less items to reconcile at the end of the month and are more likely to spot a fraudulent charge. Beware! Sometimes the fraudulent charges are intentionally small to make them harder to spot, like in the example reported by Brian Krebs in 2014 around suspicious $9.84 charges.
Below are my EZPZ tips for protecting against credit card fraud:
1. Get an expense tracking app
2. Track every transaction at the time of purchase
3. Do a monthly true-up
4. Don't sleepwalk and use the computer
Finally, listen to Shipwreck when he says, "Taking something that isn't yours just isn't right," and "Knowing is half the battle."
Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.