If you buy gas, go to a restaurant or make online purchases, you unwittingly give criminals the chance to steal your hard earned money.

Frank Abagnale, the fraudster whose life story was told in the movie, “Catch Me If You Can” is now a security expert.  He tells the story of a 2007 security breach that caused $150 million in fraud on the debit and credit cards of T.J. Maxx customers.  Those using credit cards had their money back in a few days.  Debit card holders had to wait on average two to three months to get their refunds.  For many people, this can be the difference between being able to pay the monthly rent or putting food on the table.  This also shows the importance of using credit cards for your purchases whenever possible.

Using myself as the example, a fraud was attempted against me at a gas station in downtown Los Angeles.  I slid my credit card into the swiper unit built into the fuel dispenser.  It didn’t work.  I went inside and put through the transaction but now had to use a debit card as their credit system “wasn’t working.”   At the end of the month, I spotted two transactions for identical amounts from the station on both cards.  In talking it through with the bank that held both cards, I learned that the station was on a list of high fraud locations.  This was either due to the operator, a bad employee or another practice called skimming.  This type of fraud is very easy to miss when reviewing transactions.

Skimming is where the criminal sits across the street from the station with an antenna and a laptop.  Sometimes they use a pinpoint camera as well.  Whichever way they choose, they grab the information from your card and complete transactions faster than you can drive home.  To be safe, you are best to move the transaction inside, use a credit card or something known as cash.  While its demise is often discussed, cash still works although you seem to need more for most transactions despite the lack of inflation in the economy.

While gas stations are high fraud locations, online purchases remain the top place for fraud.  Drawing from experience once again, my wife’s computer had malware from a bogus program that she installed.  All of her accounts were being compromised.  Excluding malware that steals your keystrokes and information, do you have any idea who is receiving your information on the other side of an online store?  As we’ve seen from multiple data breaches of large financial institutions and companies, there is no such thing as a 100% secure online transaction as international criminal groups constantly look for ways to steal.  Your best protection is to use one credit card specifically for online transactions.

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Another spot for frequent fraud is a restaurant.  Think about it – a server takes your card out of sight and returns with the receipt to sign.  What happens in between?  A nefarious employee could steal the information for personal use or sale to a gang or criminal group that pay for such information.

Even if you are careful, criminals will always find a way to get what they want.  That is why you should use credit cards in the situations described above.  Also remember that many fraudsters do not steal large amounts quickly anymore as it is too easy to get caught.  As such, they steal smaller amounts on a monthly basis.  Many people miss these smaller charges and after 90 days, it is difficult if not impossible to get your money back from your financial institution.

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