Shopping: How to shop safely and avoid fraud

By Christina McDonald

In Canada, debit card and credit card fraud are topics of increasing interest and concern. Whether you shop in person or on line, you may be a target for debit card fraud or credit card fraud. Although the risk is low, if you are a victim of fraud, it can be very upsetting.

Fortunately, in Canada, consumers are well protected in case of credit card or debit card fraud. There are measures in place to help you.

However, when you shop, it is still important to protect yourself. Here are some tips on how to do this.

Steps to avoid credit card fraud

  • Read your credit card agreement carefully and make sure you understand the terms and conditions, including whether there are any instances in which you could be held liable for credit card fraud.
  • As soon as you receive your new credit card, sign the back, and cancel and destroy any cards you no longer need or use. Simply throwing out your card is not enough - you must also call your bank or financial institution to cancel your old cards.
  • Be sure to tell your financial institution if your address has changed, or if you are planning to move. If the institution doesn't have your correct address, it might send your credit card to the wrong place. Unclaimed cards are a perfect target for thieves, who know how to activate them and use them fraudulently.
  • Don't let your card out of your sight. When you make a purchase in a store, keep your eye on the cashier, to make sure the employee doesn't "double swipe" your card. "Double swiping" means swiping your card twice - once through the cash register, and once through an illegal card reader that steals and stores your personal information. Criminals use information from the card reader to make a duplicate of your card and run up charges on it.
  • If you have a personal identification number (PIN) for your credit card, so you can withdraw money at an automatic banking machine (ABM), memorize this number. Never write your PIN down and never give it to anyone else. Don't use numbers for your PIN - such as your date of birth or telephone number - that someone else could easily guess, if you lose your card.
  • Be sure to destroy anything you don't need that has your credit card number on it. For example, if you paid for your meal at a restaurant with a credit card, don't leave the bill on the table when you leave the restaurant. Make sure you give the bill to one of the staff. Likewise, don't put old credit card statements, receipts or other documents that have your credit card number on them in the recycling bin without shredding them first!
  • Keep track of your monthly purchases. Check your credit card statements regularly, and report any suspicious or inaccurate charges to your financial institution, immediately.
  • Don't give out any personal information, or your credit card account number, over the phone or on the Internet -unless you are sure that you're dealing with a company you know and trust. If someone contacts you by phone, and asks you to provide this type of information, always check who the person or company is, and only deal with companies you know are legitimate.

Steps to avoid debit card fraud

  • Memorize your PIN and never give it to anyone else.
  • Make sure you always keep your eye on your card when it is swiped.
  • Whenever you enter your PIN number, make sure you cover the PIN pad with your hand to hide the number - even if no one else is around. Some fraud artists install small video cameras in ceilings at stores or near ABMs so they can capture consumers' PIN numbers.
  • Keep track of your monthly purchases and report any suspicious or inaccurate charges to your financial institution, immediately.
  • Let your debit card issuer know right away if your card has been lost or stolen.
  • Never give out your PIN or on-line password. No bank or financial institution will ever ask you to provide this information.

What should you do if you are a victim of credit card or debit card fraud?

  • Contact your financial institution immediately and report any unauthorized transactions. Also inform local police.
  • In some cases, a financial institution may contact you by phone, or leave you a voicemail message, if they suspect that there have been fraudulent transactions made with your debit or credit card, or charged to your account. Do not provide personal information over the phone without first checking that you are speaking to someone from your financial institution. To confirm this, hang up, then call the institution back using the phone number provided on the back of your debit or credit card, or on your monthly statement, or using a number that you have looked up, yourself. Ask the institution to verify that the phone number you were given is a valid number, or have them transfer you directly to their Lost or Stolen Cards department.
  • Note: Your financial institution may ask you some personal questions, to make sure you are a valid client. However, they will never ask you to provide your PIN or banking password.
  • Always be careful about how, and to whom, you give out personal and financial information.

Finally, if you have any questions, or have gone through the complaint-handling process of your financial institution but are still being held liable for transactions made as a result of debit or credit card fraud, contact the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). You can call the Agency toll-free at 1-866-461-3222, or visit FCAC's Web site at: www.fcac.gc.ca

FCAC is an agency of the federal government that protects consumers' rights and provides information about financial products and services.

CNM