(LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10, 2009) – With losses to retirement accounts, home values and in many cases income, Southern Californians are now particularly vulnerable to financial disaster in the event of identity theft and/or credit card fraud. The Automobile Club of Southern California’s AAA Financial Services is providing several tips to help consumers avoid the time-consuming stress and financial strain of becoming a fraud victim.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, California has the highest number of reported identity theft victims among all states (nearly 44,000 in 2007), and the second-highest number of identity theft victims per capita (Arizona is No. 1).
- Treat your credit cards and all your identification like cash. Keep them securely in your wallet or at home when not needed.
- Review your monthly statements in a timely manner to ensure all charges are accurate, and if possible, check your accounts online frequently. This will help you quickly detect whether you have become a victim of “skimming.” Skimming often occurs in restaurants and bars where credit cards are out of sight of the cardholder. Secret copies of the magnetic strip are made in order to make a counterfeit card.
- Report billing errors and lost or stolen cards immediately to resolve problems in a timely manner and reduce possible fraudulent activity.
- Sign up for an identity theft monitoring service. Some cost money, but others are available for free through consumers’ business affiliations and memberships. For example, Auto Club of Southern California members can receive credit monitoring and identity fraud resolution support at no additional charge, just by signing up for the member benefit online.
- Be skeptical of all e-mail that directs the user to a website in which credit card or personal information is entered. One of the largest forms of fraud is “phishing,” in which victims receive an email that directs to a phony website that is an exact copy of a real website and requests users to enter personal and financial data, supposedly to verify accounts.
- Do not give out your credit card number, social security number, birth date or other personal information over the phone unless you are familiar with the merchant or you have initiated the call.
- Track your usage by keeping receipts for your ATM, credit and debit cards.
- Keep a list of your credit card account numbers, issuer contact information and the three credit reporting agencies in a safe place to allow for quick reporting if they are lost or stolen.
- Shred pre-approved offers, card receipts, and anything that displays your credit card information before putting them in the trash.
- When purchasing over the Internet using a credit card, make sure that the site provides a secure, encrypted location for you to enter your credit card information (the prefix address at the top of the Web site should be https:// rather than http://)
- It is wiser to use a credit card, rather than a debit card when making purchases over the Internet. When you use a debit card, it is your money at stake and not the bank’s.