10 tips to reduce your risk of credit card scams

Sub Editor · 19 August 2021
Concerned you are at risk from scammers? We share 10 tips to protect yourself from credit card scams.

Every year, scammers are getting smarter, finding new and innovative ways to invade our personal privacy and target our cash and cards. Scams can hurt our hip pocket, with data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) showing Australians lost at least $851 million to scams last year, up 34% on the year before. There can also be a heavy emotional toll caused by scams, with victims sometimes experiencing shame, grief, vulnerability and even post-traumatic stress.

Moneysmart says that with credit card scams, scammers don’t even need your credit card – just your details – to wreck havoc. Phishing – which includes attempts to trick you to give out details such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers and passwords – continues to be prolific amongst scammers, with more than 44,000 cases reported last year to the ACCC’s Scamwatch.

In this article, we share 10 tips to help you avoid credit card scams, plus where to get help if you’ve lost money or given out your personal details to a scammer.

What can I do to avoid credit card scams?

1. Don’t throw personal documents into the bin

If you are disposing of any documents that include personal details, make sure you shred or otherwise destroy them (e.g. soak them in water) before tossing them into the bin. Buying a home shredder can be a great investment. Some document types you may want to shred or dispose of safely include:

  • financial correspondence, such as savings, transaction, credit card, and buy now pay later (BNPL) account statements
  • any letters or documents received from the government
  • any documents with personal information

2. Keep your mail secure and protected

Buying a lock for your letter box (or using a PO Box) can be a good idea. And if you’re going to be away for a while on holidays or otherwise, make sure you either put a hold on your mail or have someone collect it for you regularly.

3. Read your own mail and financial statements

How often do you get a credit card statement and toss it onto a ‘to be read later/never’ pile? It could be a good idea to get into the habit of opening all your financial statements and checking them carefully for any sign of suspicious activity or financial fraud. That goes for your other bank accounts and your superannuation fund as well. But remember to shred them up when you’re done with them.

4. Check your credit history regularly

An idea to keep track of your credit history is to get a free copy of your credit score. This will alert you to any attempts to apply for credit in your name. You can get your free credit score with Canstar. You can also contact Australia’s three credit reporting bodies, Experian, Illion and Equifax, for more information.

5. Be cautious when buying online

We all love shopping online – but be cautious about who you share your credit card details with. Think carefully before buying anything from a website that looks suspicious, and try to avoid websites that don’t offer the use of a secure payment facility. Be aware too of the potential risks of using online payment services that require your card details too. If they were hacked, it could result in you falling victim to credit card fraud. The Australian Cyber Security Centre has detailed tips for shopping online safely, including about the importance of knowing your sellers and paying securely. Westpac suggests checking for a padlock icon in the address bar of a website to see if you are accessing an authentic and protected site.

6. Choose a bank with advanced security features

Some banks offer fingerprint access to mobile banking on supported devices. Using this technology means that you’ll be able to access your online banking, including your credit card accounts, with fingerprint authentication rather than a pin. This could help to keep your online accounts safer. As part of Canstar’s Online and Mobile Banking Awards, you can compare features on offer from online and mobile banking platforms in Australia, with security considered as part of the overall ratings. CommBank, for example, monitors its accounts 24 hours a day, and describes itself as having “advanced security and fraud detection systems in place to detect abnormal transactions or spending patterns”.

7. Always know where your card is

Keep track of your credit card or credit cards at all times, and if you lose it, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and lock the card.

8. Stay digitally protected

It can be a good idea to keep the virus and security software on your computers and mobile devices updated, and try to avoid visiting or buying from websites that have questionable security.

9. Never give credit card details over the phone

If you need to make a payment or want to donate to a charity, it can be a good idea to do it online via a secure payment method or call the organisation directly. Credit card scammers can access your information over the phone if they impersonate another institution. Scamwatch figures show scammers commonly use the phone as a method to scam Australians. Other methods, such as the internet, social networking, email, mobile applications, in person, text messaging and the post are also being used to trick Australians through a variety of different scams.

10. If you think you’ve been scammed, report it ASAP

If you think you may have been scammed, let your financial institution know ASAP and report it to both the police and the ACCC (via Scamwatch). There are many different types of scams aside from credit card scams, and you might even be experiencing more than one type of scam if your privacy and personal details have been compromised. Scamwatch says that common scam categories include investment scams, dating and romance scams, false billing, remote access scams, identity theft, online shopping scams, lottery scams and more.

Where can you get help if you’ve been scammed?

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has information for Australians if you’ve lost money to a scam or given out your personal information, such as credit card details.

  • Immediate steps. Scamwatch recommends that if you’ve been threatened, assaulted or had property stolen, you should contact your local police station immediately. If bank account details are potentially compromised, Scamwatch advises to alert your bank or financially institution immediately.
  • General advice. Scamwatch has advice to help you with warning friends and family, contacting financial institutions, recovering your stolen identity, reporting scams to authorities, getting help from Australian agencies, changing your online passwords and more.
  • Emotional help. If you need emotional support, you can talk to your GP, a local health professional or someone you trust. Some counselling and support services that may be helpful include Lifeline, beyondblue and MensLine Australia.

Are you at high risk of being scammed?

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians, Indigenous Australians, people with a disability and older Australians are often targeted by scams, with research suggesting scammers might see older Aussies, in particular, as being less familiar with new technology. Recent Scamwatch figures show that collectively, scammers stole close to $34 million from CALD Australians, people with a disability and Indigenous Australians last year.

“Unfortunately, scheming scammers try to target people who by virtue of their background, disadvantage, language skills or disability may experience vulnerability, and be more likely to fall for their tricks,” said the ACCC’s Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard.

The ACCC has translated the Little Black Book of Scams into ten languages to help the community understand and avoid scams. It regularly engages in Indigenous outreach programs and shares scam warnings on the Your Rights Mob Facebook page. Scamwatch also has detailed advice about scams for older Australians.

Earlier reporting by James Hurwood and Justine Davies.

Cover image source: By Teerasak Ladnongkhun/Shutterstock.com

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This content was reviewed by Sub Editor Tom Letts as part of our fact-checking process.

Jacqui is a senior communications professional with 15 years of experience in journalism, editing and public relations. She brings international experience as a Global Content Manager for ABB and has held senior editorial roles in Australia with the Queensland Government, UQ and John Wiley & Sons.

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