Avoid identity theft this holiday season

After Black Friday shoppers devastated the mall, we went out to see if there was anything left. We mainly wanted to get out of the house and out of the massive amounts of turkey and stuffing we ate, but my daughter saw a trinket on sale that she wanted. Since he had been good, we agreed to get him now instead of waiting for Santa, and that’s when my husband’s credit card suddenly didn’t work.

At first he thought there was a physical problem with the card. He had been to another store before and believed he had put the card in something that would have rendered the magnetic stripe useless. We bought the trinket for cash and thought of nothing for the rest of the day. We would call the bank on Monday and let them know we needed a new card.

On Monday, my husband checked our accounts online and noticed two strange charges at gas stations in another state. Neither of them made the purchases, leading us to conclude that the cancellation of their card was a security precaution and that someone had stolen the number. We report the theft and take care of the situation. Fortunately, whoever had the number only made two small “sensor” charges and hadn’t been connected to the Internet to go on the spree.

All this time, we wonder how someone else got the card number. My husband had the physical card all the time, so how did he get the number? After doing some research, I learned that this is possible in a number of ways.

  • Someone in line behind you takes a picture of your credit card while you buy something. If they can deduce the CVV code, they can use the number online.
  • Someone taking your card to complete a purchase, such as in a restaurant, could use a manual skimmer that collects the card data. This is not to say that all waiters or store workers are dishonest, but when someone needs to remove their vision card, there is a risk.
  • Someone with a scanner that reads the chips on newer cards can scan the information, even if you haven’t removed the card from your wallet.

It sounds scary to think that you are not safe wherever you are, but there are ways to be vigilant, especially during the holidays when shopping is at its peak. When shopping, be as discreet as possible with your card and do not show it. If you are at an ATM, hide your activity as much as possible. If you buy online, make sure you only buy from secure web stores. If possible, too, don’t bring all of your cards with you when you go out.

We were lucky this time, but we will definitely be careful in the future. I hope you do too.