Listen Live
Black America Web Featured Video

It’s the season of swimsuits and barbecues, and I hate to rain on any parades, but crooks are looking forward to summer just as much as we are, because it’s also prime time for credit card scams.

Why’s that?

Summer means travel, and being on the road makes consumers more vulnerable to fraud.

Many banks and card issuers have safeguards in place. That’s excellent, but it’s a drag when Joe from Minnesota has his card flagged for suspicious activity—and then frozen—because of charges in say, Paris, when Joe is in fact in Paris.

Ensure this doesn’t happen to you by alerting your bank before you travel, especially overseas. You’ll want to talk with them anyway to find out about any fees for using foreign ATMs. Also, make photo copies of your cards.

You want to make sure the account number and the toll-free customer service number are both legible. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., check to see if the number you can call to reach customer service from outside of the country is on the back. If not, call your issuer and ask for it. You’ll want two copies; one to leave with a trusted friend or family member back home, and one to bring with you. And of course, keep the copy in a different spot than the card!

Any other tips for summer travelers?

Absolutely! First, lighten your wallet: If you have multiple credit cards—which  I hope people don’t, but that’s a different topic!—don’t take them all on vacation. More cards is just more opportunity for having one lost or stolen. Bring two cards, max. And as I said before, make copies. (By the way, the headache of a lost wallet is MUCH lessened if you have a copy of its contents in a safe place at home. That’s a no-brainer. Sometimes you can order a replacement driver’s license online, but only if you have the number. As far as I’m concerned, saving yourself four hours in line at the DMV is money in the bank., not to mention sanity.)

My second tip is how to avoid being a victim of “skimming,” when crooks use a concealed spy camera or an electronic device to record your card number and secret PIN code, then drain your checking account. Be smart. Avoid sketchy stand-alone ATMs in favor of those inside banks, and play it safe by covering your hand as you enter your pin. Of course, always get a receipt and be sure your session has ended before you walk away from the machine.

Last week, Consumer Reports stated that 19.5 million consumers had charges placed on a credit card by an unauthorized person.

And that’s just from old-school credit card crime. Technology is advancing at such a fast pace and scammers are keeping pace. It was recently reported there is a free android app that can be used to read credit card information from a nearby card even if it’s not visible.  That means all a thief needs is a smartphone to read credit information from a contactless card, such as a card number, expiry date and cardholder name simply by holding the phone over a credit or debit card—even through wallets, pockets and purses.

What is a “contactless card”?

Contactless cards have an embedded radio chip, and that radio frequency identification, or RFID, allows cardholders to simply hold their credit or debit cards within an inch or two of a card reader to complete a purchase transaction. No signature is required on purchases less than $25. No more swiping the card through a reader. No more handing your card to the sales clerk. No more contact.

Although the technology hasn’t received as enthusiastic a reception in the U.S. as in Europe and Asia, contactless cards are far more common than they might seem: According to the Smart Card Association, about 100 million of the RFID-enabled cards are in circulation. In fact, you may have a contactless card and not even realize it. Take out your credit card and turn it over. Look for one of the “contactless” RFID logos: Chase Bank coined the term Blink, Visa calls its technology payWave, MasterCard dubs it PayPass, Discover brands it Zip, and American Express calls it ExpressPay. Or look for the universal “wireless” symbol: that triangle of nested arcs.

How do you suggest our listeners protect themselves?

Well, it remains to be seen if the new technology will actually increase fraud. If you’re really not comfortable having a contactless card, you could nuke it, but I wouldn’t advise that route: Three seconds kills the chip, five seconds starts a house fire. Just ask your card issuer for a card without the chip.

And as always, the easiest way to protect yourself is to monitor your account activity online regularly and contact the issuer immediately if you see any charges you didn’t make.  Most credit card companies will reimburse you for fraudulent charges. If the charge was on credit, you’re probably liable for up to only $50. (That limit doesn’t apply to debit charges.) If you take appropriate precautions, you’ll hopefully have a safe and prosperous summer!