Credit cards are an easy, convenient way to make purchases. Unfortunately, that also means they can prove an easy, convenient target for scammers. That explains why credit card fraud keeps soaring year after year.[1]

Like most major banks, PNC Bank provides its credit card users with zero liability protection for unauthorized purchases. At the same time, just because you won’t lose the money if defrauded, credit card fraud still has negative impacts. After all, it takes time for a card holder to file a claim with the credit card issuer. Further, fraudulent charges can temporarily push credit balances over your card limit, prevent you from using your card, and/or require you to replace the card altogether. And, finally, there’s the pain of having to change any account numbers you may have stored with your favorite online merchants, streaming channels, and more.

“Ultimately, whether it’s the merchant or the card issuer that takes a loss, in the long run it becomes a ‘tax’ on everyone through higher prices,” said Mark Kwapiszeski, PNC Head of Enterprise Fraud.

That means you have a real stake in preventing credit card fraud.  The good news? You, the credit card holder, can avoid credit card fraud with a healthy dose of vigilance and common sense.

“The spread of credit card fraud can be significantly reduced,” asserts Nate Bacon, head of Credit Cards at PNC Bank. “While the financial industry is working to create new and better measures to protect credit card security, it’s in the interest of our customers to also help by taking precautions of their very own.”

As a credit card holder, you don’t need ninja-level crime fighting skills to do your part. While there’s no foolproof set of precautions to completely prevent this type of fraud, common sense, awareness, and an arsenal of available security tools can significantly reduce the odds of criminals hijacking your card.

What are those precautions? We’ve listed a few below. None are difficult to do, yet all can prove highly effective.

Monitor Your Account

The simplest measure of all is awareness. With both mobile banking apps and online banking, long gone are the days when you waited for the monthly credit card statement to arrive in the mail. Instead, you can track credit card activity almost to the minute. And when it comes to stopping credit card fraud, the sooner the better.

Your PNC mobile banking app will have a feature called PNC Alerts, letting you know automatically when new transactions are taking place on your credit card. That allows you to take instant action in the event of a suspicious charge.

It’s also important to review your monthly credit card statement regularly and carefully, looking for unfamiliar transactions.

“Reviewing your monthly statement and reconciling it through personal financial management tools are just good practices for so many reasons,” Bacon adds. “Not only do you keep tabs on credit card activity, but you also can review your balances and how that affects your overall financial picture. It takes all of a few minutes but is really worth the investment of time.”

Avoid Unsecure Websites

Every time you visit a website, especially those on which you intend to make a purchase, glance at the left-hand side of the address bar in your browser.

In the past, the small icon of a padlock next to the website address indicated the website is offering data security. The same once proved true of any web address that began with ‘https.’ However, as cybercriminals become more adept, those are no longer guarantors of security. It’s important to stay informed about security measures taken by your preferred browsers and stay up to date on all security measures.[2]

Scammers Are Everywhere. Stay Vigilant

If you have a mobile phone or e-mail, chances are you’ve already encountered scammers who seek your financial information. And they get more sophisticated with each passing day, doing a remarkable job mimicking banks, government agencies, and even the emails of friends and colleagues. With this in mind, be suspicious of unsolicited e-mails or text messages asking for your personal information, credit card number, and/or PIN. And never click a link in one of these messages.

Even if a text appears to come from a legitimate brand like PNC, thoroughly vet the request before engaging. Always verify details through a separate, trusted communication channel, such as a phone call to a verified, known number. Don’t use a number provided to you by the texter. Independently verify and never click on a link sent to you by text message. Additionally, PNC will never ask for your personal information, credit card number, or PIN. Instead,  we will only send texts from five- or six-figure short codes, the most common of which can be found here.

If you receive a call from your financial institution, hang up and call the number on the back of your credit card to verify if the call is indeed legitimate.

Protect Your Card When Making Purchases

Credit card thieves have long used a device called a skimmer to steal debit or credit card information that can be used to duplicate cards and commit fraud. Installed by criminals on any device where you can insert a card, these skimmers read the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card and the personal and account information stored on it.  

Best precaution? Whenever possible use the Tap & Go option, especially at unattended terminals like those found at gas station. Tap & Go allows you to touch your card to the screen without having to swipe or insert it. If it isn’t an option, consider using a different method.   

Don’t Overshare On Social Media

You see them all the time: Online posts that ask about your first car, the street where you grew up, or the name of your first elementary school teacher. It’s no coincidence that, among others, those are common security questions that call centers use to verify your identity.

“Online quizzes in social media can be fun. Everybody wants to participate in those,” adds Bacon. “But scammers are really good at convincing people to lower their defenses.” So answer those questions at your own risk. Otherwise, you are giving away vital clues to thieves seeking to pass themselves off as you—and defraud you. 

Public Wi-Fi? Avoid

Public Wi-Fi is notorious for its lack of encryption safeguards, making it especially vulnerable to hackers. Whether you’re in an airport or library or coffee shop, a scammer could be just a few feet away, waiting to steal your information.  At the very least, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, that requires a paid subscription to keep your information secure. Many free VPNs are worse than using nothing, so make the investment to be safe and secure.

Implement A Fraud Alert Or Credit Freeze

If your card goes missing, the clock is ticking. It’s important to report any missing credit cards to the issuer as quickly as possible. When you do, your credit card issuer will freeze your account, preventing unauthorized charges.

“PNC Bank has created one safeguard called EasyLock,” offers Bacon, “This is part of our ongoing efforts to protect customer debit and credit cards. If your card goes missing, you can use EasyLock to quickly lock your card and safeguard against any fraudulent use. We’ve also made it equally easy to unlock your card if and when it turns up.”

PNC also has other measures to lessen the likelihood of fraud such as security questions and Two-Step verification. Meanwhile, setting up credit bureau alerts will tell you if new credit is being opened in your name.  It is good to know that a credit freeze means creditors cannot even access your credit report, preventing them from approving any application by an imposter. [3]

Review Credit Reports

Finally, the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—offer a free credit report on an annual basis. At the same time, it may be worth checking more often if you believe you are at risk for credit fraud.

If you find any account or transaction that you believe isn’t yours, contact your credit card issuer immediately.

After all, no one is fully impervious to fraud. But take the right precautions and exercise a little vigilance, and your odds of being a victim fall dramatically.