Fraud Prevention Tips for Consumers

Identity theft can be devastating to your personal finances.

There are, however, a number of effective ways you can protect your identity and personal information from thieves. Click to learn about some of the most effective strategies for protecting your identity.

There's no doubt that credit cards and debit cards have changed the way we do business, both as individuals and as businesses.

Instead of carrying cash, these cards provide convenience and safety, as well as tracking of transactions on monthly statements.

You don't have to lose your credit or debit card to become a victim of credit card fraud. Thieves can obtain your credit card account numbers from old receipts or by scanning your card in illegal machines or some of the major breaches in recent years of retailers and other businesses.

There are many things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of credit card fraud. They include:

  • Always sign the back of your cards when they arrive in the mail.  If you get duplicate cards for your account, sign the back and put them in a safe, secure place.
  • Get your statements online
  • Pick PIN numbers you can easily remember that are not birthday dates, house or phone numbers, or repetitions of a single number. Never write your PIN number down on a slip of paper that you keep in your purse or wallet.
  • Check your card statements for unfamiliar transactions.
  • Get the receipts from your card transactions.
  • Retain any receipts you get from a card transaction and reconcile them with your monthly bank account statements. Never throw them out in the trash, or if you do, shred them.
  • Be sure to get your card back when you use it for purchases. Also be sure you can see your card at all times when it's being used for a transaction.
  • If you're shopping online, be sure the website you're visiting is secure (indicated by https://) before you enter your card number.
  • Write down all your card numbers and keep them in a safe, locked place with your statements.
  • Don't allow anyone else to use your credit or debit card and never co-sign for a card that will be used by another person without your supervision.
  • If you notice your credit or debit card is missing, call the card issuer or PNC immediately to report it lost or stolen. If you act quickly, you can minimize the chance for fraudulent charges.
  • Never give your credit or debit card account number or PINs to anyone you don't know over the computer or the phone.
  • Know where your cards are at all times, and never leave your wallet or purse unattended - even for a minute.
  • Shield the keypad when entering your PIN.

Consider the following pointers when conducting your personal business or making a purchase:

  • Choose to do business with companies you know are reputable, particularly when shopping online.
  • When you fill out a loan or credit application, be sure that the business either shreds these applications or stores them in locked files.
  • Ask businesses what their privacy policies are and how they will use your information.
  • Keep a list of all your credit cards and bank accounts along with their account numbers, expiration dates and credit limits, as well as their respective fraud department phone numbers in a safe place.
  • If your state uses your Social Security Number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.
  • Only provide your Social Security number when necessary - on tax forms and employment records, or for some banking, stock and property transactions, such as account opening. If you are banking on line, make sure you are in a secured area (indicated by https:// in the front of the web address) before entering any personally identifiable information, including, but not limited to your User ID and Password.
  • Don't have your Social Security number printed on checks. Use an alternate number if needed.

Many thieves use the telephone to commit fraud.

These criminals are looking for unsuspecting individuals who will give them important information, like Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Once they have your information, they use it to make fraudulent purchases, obtain credit or to access bank accounts.

To avoid being a victim of phone solicitations, hang up:

  • if you don't know the person to whom you are talking.
  • if an unknown caller asks you for your Social Security Number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers or date of birth.
  • if you receive a call asking you to provide personal information to win a prize.
  • if you are called and asked to verify information about your credit cards. If the caller claimed to be a bank representative, hang up and call your bank directly using the number on the back of your card or the bank's web site. Remember that PNC Bank will never call you and ask for your personal information over the phone (i.e. Social Security Numbers, Date of Birth, credit card numbers or bank account numbers).

There are steps you can take at home to protect yourself from fraud, too. Remember these helpful tips:

  • Keep track of credit card, debit card and ATM receipts. Never throw them out in the trash, or if you do, shred them.
  • Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement for suspicious activity. It usually comes in the mail about three months before your birthday.
  • Review your credit card statements carefully for unexplained charges.
  • Store personal information in a safe place and shred or tear up documents you don't need.
  • Keep duplicate credit cards in a safe, locked place.

Mail fraud involves use of the postal system to steal money and valuables from victims.

It is most often committed through solicitation letters, phony sweepstakes, bogus catalogs, or work-at-home offers. Thieves can commit mail fraud by simply stealing mail - such as bank statements, credit card offers or checks - out of your mailbox.

To avoid becoming a victim of mail fraud, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Buy and install a locking mailbox.
  • Don't leave bill payment envelopes in your mailbox for pickup -take them to a postal mailbox.
  • Know when your bank and credit card statements, Social Security checks or pension payments are supposed to arrive each month. Better yet, get your statements online.
  • Know your billing cycles, and watch for any missing mail.
  • Follow up if bills or new cards do not arrive on time.
  • Carefully review all of your monthly accounts for unauthorized charges.
  • Never respond to a sweepstakes letter by sending in a check to claim your prize.
  • Only send checks to charities with which you are familiar.
  • If you are asked to send a "deposit" to "get started" with a work-at-home offer or a pyramid scheme, don't respond.
  • If you order merchandise from a catalog and it doesn't arrive or isn't what you ordered, call the Better Business Bureau.
  • If merchandise you didn't order arrives COD (Cash On Delivery), just send it back.