If you were to turn over any credit or debit card in my father’s wallet, you would find that instead of signing his name in the signature box, he had written “Check Photo ID.” His rationale was twofold:
1. On the off chance that a cashier or waiter were to actually try to compare the signature on the card with the one on the charge slip (which, as a former retail employee, I can tell you is a rare event indeed), they would truly be able to determine if the person using the card was actually the cardholder.
2. If his credit card was stolen, my father didn’t want the thieves to also have a copy of his signature to forge.
This is a strategy I have emulated, even though as technology has advanced, this trick has become less and less useful. After all, Internet shopping requires no signature, and in many stores you no longer even have to sign for a charge that is less than $25. However, doing simple, low-tech things like this can help to protect you and your identity in case your credit card takes a powder. Here are four more strategies you can use to protect yourself from credit card theft:
1. Photocopy the Contents of Your Wallet
This is another strategy my father taught me—and it’s much easier to do now that most people have printers that also make photocopies. By making a copy of the front and back of everything you carry in your wallet, you know exactly what you have lost in the event that your wallet is stolen or goes missing.
In addition, having photocopies means you have easy access to the phone numbers and account numbers you will need to call your credit card company to cancel your card. Obviously, you will need to keep these photocopies in a safe place, such as your home safe.
2. Carry Your Credit Card Customer Service Phone Number with You
The only problem with the photocopy method is the possibility of losing your wallet when you’re traveling. That’s why it’s a good idea to also carry the toll-free customer service numbers with you, so that you know who to call in case of loss. One possibility is to program the toll-free number into your cell phone so you can easily reach it. Another option is to email yourself these numbers, so you can access them from anywhere you can get online.
One important thing to note: When canceling a credit card, you will be asked for the account number. However, it’s clearly unsafe to carry this around—particularly if you have it stored with the toll-free phone number. Why make it easy for a thief to call and change your information? But, if you are calling to alert your credit card company to a theft, you can prove your identity and account status even if you do not know your account number off the top of your head. So rest assured that simply having the phone number will be enough if you lose your card.
3. Carry Credit Cards Separately From Your Wallet
The thinking behind this trick is that you can minimize the likelihood of having your credit card stolen if it is separate from the rest of your wallet. While it’s unfortunate to lose any cash you are carrying, it will not affect your future finances like credit card fraud can and will.
Here’s how this strategy worked for me: I used to carry two “wallets.” One was a traditional wallet, in which I kept cash, my debit card, my driver’s license, and other forms of ID. The other was a small case designed as a business card holder, in which I kept my credit card, gift cards, and receipts. On a trip to New York City, the credit card “wallet” was lifted out of my purse on the subway, and I did not notice the loss until I had returned home to Columbus, Ohio, since I was using cash and my debit card exclusively on the trip.
On the one hand, carrying these two wallets turned out well for me. I only lost my credit card, and apparently the one purchase the thieves attempted to make before abandoning the card was large enough that it pushed my credit over the limit and was declined. Once I noticed the loss, I worked with my credit card company to ensure that the fraudulent purchase attempt did not affect my credit. I did not lose my cash or debit card, and other than losing out on a Barnes & Noble gift card I had plans for, I was not affected in any way.
However, I should have been carrying my second wallet (or just the credit card itself) closer to my person—like in a snug pants pocket. If you do use this strategy, learn from my mistake and keep your separate credit card someplace more secure than I did.
4. Don’t Give Out Your Information
The beginning of the film Identity Thief shows just how easy it is for thieves to phish for information. Melissa McCarthy’s character calls her victim, pretending to inform him of potential fraudulent activity on his account and offering him free identity theft protection—he just needs to verify his information.
This is the sort of phone call you might expect to receive from your bank or credit card—but no legitimate institution will ever call, email, or text you with a request for information verification. So unless you have placed the call to a phone number you know is legitimate, never give your credit card number, Social Security number, birth date, or other information to someone over the phone.
If you do receive such a phone call alerting you to suspicious activity on your account, ask if you can take a phone number (which you then double check) and call them back.
The Bottom Line about Protecting Yourself from Credit Card Theft
The fact of the matter is that the majority of credit card fraud is the result of simple techniques that have been used against victims for years. Taking a few simple and commonsense precautions can help you to keep your credit card safe—and help you to clean up a mess quickly in case your card is stolen.