If there's one reason why so many people are still afraid to do their shopping, banking or financial planning online, it's the prevalence of scams. Ever since the Internet first rose to popularity, scams of various kinds have popped up left and right. Debit card numbers are stolen, data breaches are more common than most people would like to admit, and identity theft is rampant in today's world. While Chip-and-PIN cards, which promise improved security features, may be on the horizon -- no one is safe from scams or fraud.
One particular type of scam that has been making the rounds via the web is credit card approval fraud, and a surprisingly small percentage of individuals actually know about it. These scams come in a variety of different flavors, but the end result is always the same -- they're targeting you, your money and your credit. What's worse is that anyone can fall victim to this type of fraud, especially consumers who find themselves browsing the web on a regular basis.
What to watch out for
Credit card approval fraud can occur in a number of ways. You may log into your email account one day, for example, and notice messages from what appear to be a credit card company saying that you have been approved for a card. More often than not, though, recipients of these types of emails claim to have never applied for credit, which can cause confusion and bewilderment. The reasons behind these messages are pretty easy to understand — most of the time, they're not real.
You may think you've gotten an email from a credit card company, but really, the message was sent by a scammer "phishing" for your information. Click-through, provide your personal data, and you'll be setting yourself up for a good case of identity theft. It happens far more frequently than most people think, and if you've actually been applying for credit cards as of late, you might find yourself getting tricked.
Another common way scammers might attempt to steal your identity: trying to get credit cards in your name. This is stereotypical credit card fraud and usually isn't very hard to spot, but that's not to say it doesn't remain a huge problem. The worst part of this type of fraud is that many people don't even realize what has happened until a fair amount of damage has been done, and the recovery process can be fairly lengthy.
Taking steps to protect your identity
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you have been a victim of identity theft or credit card approval fraud, take action as soon as possible. Many people panic and don't know where to start, but as long as you keep a cool head, you can typically nip these situations in the bud before things get out of hand.
First, you'll want to contact the bank that has supposedly sent you a credit card approval notice. Explain your situation, providing all of the details associated with the email you've received. Typically, the bank will be able to immediately tell you whether you've been scammed or have actually received a real approval notice. In most cases, your trouble will end here, so long as you haven't clicked through the nefarious email. If you have, it may be necessary to take further action.
One step you can take to ensure that no one will be able to get credit in your name is to put a freeze on your credit report. Also referred to as a "security freeze," this will keep any creditor from obtaining a copy of your report, hence ensuring that no one (including yourself) is able to get credit associated with your name. Requesting a security freeze isn't usually a good idea if you're actively seeking credit, but if you feel as if you've been scammed, it may be a necessity.
Another way you can protect your identity is to watch out for any "instant-approval" credit card offers you might see while browsing the web. There's no getting around the fact that some of these offers are real, but a great deal of them are no different than the phishing emails you may be receiving in your inbox. They're meant to trick people into giving up their personal information. If you're looking for a credit card, it's best to stick to cards that are well-known and offered by legitimate banks, regardless of how much you'd like to see an instant approval.
No matter how you use the web, it's important to realize that you'll always be susceptible to fraud. You can take steps, however, such as avoiding high-risk websites, running antivirus/anti-malware software on a regular basis, and encrypting your data to ensure that you don't become a victim of identity theft. You can also utilize free financial tools to keep a close eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity. The more vigilant and careful you are while using the web, the better off you will be.