Written by Preet Banerjee
Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
There's an old joke about someone having their credit card stolen but not complaining when they found out about it — the thief didn't spend nearly as much as the victim usually did.
The reality of finding out your money's been compromised obviously isn't very funny. Reactions run the gamut of emotions, from anger to frustration to complete misery, depending on how much was stolen and how quick your financial institution is to help you.
Although I've personally had debit and credit cards compromised multiple times, I've been lucky in the sense that — at least so far — I've always had any fraudulent charges reversed without any issue.
The first time I checked my credit report, I found an extra credit card in my name. I've also had people buy plane tickets, purchase books from a store halfway across the planet and make withdrawals from my chequing account from an ABM in Peru while I was in Barbados.
Keeping your financial information secure requires you to be both proactive and reactive: proactive about preventing the pilfering of your private info as best you can, and reactive in monitoring and following up as soon as you detect anything suspicious. Here are some ideas you can put into practice:
1. Always cover your PIN
Everybody knows they aren't supposed to share their PIN on debit and credit cards, but it's important to protect your PIN even when no one else is around. Crooks can use cameras to see the buttons you push and install card-reading devices on ABMs to usurp your info. Even if you're alone at a bank-branch ABM, always cover the keypad when entering your PIN.
2. Consider a separate credit card with a low limit for online purchases
Do you do a lot of your shopping online? Consider getting a card dedicated solely to online purchasing. You can keep this card tucked safely away at home. Setting your available credit limit to $1,000 or less means that if the card ever gets compromised, you can limit the damage and easily have it suspended without affecting your day-to-day credit card spending needs.
3. Check your credit report regularly
Many people like to monitor both Equifax and TransUnion, the two main credit bureaus in Canada. Personally, I alternate each year between the two to keep costs down. So one year I check TransUnion, and the following year I check Equifax. You can mail in a form to access the reports for free, and could therefore check both credit bureaus annually at no cost. But I prefer to pay the nominal fee to get instant access along with my credit score for convenience, so I only check one bureau per year.
4. Review your credit card and debit card transactions at least monthly
Sometimes my card providers call me to tell me they've detected suspicious activity, but they don't catch everything. The plane ticket and book purchase I mentioned above were on my statement, and it was only because I spotted them that I got my money back. Go over every line of your statements, every single month.
5. Set up email alerts for transactions
Most financial institutions allow you to request automated emails for various types of transactions. That's how I found out about the ABM withdrawals in Peru while I was in Barbados — I got two email notifications about withdrawals while laying in bed one morning. Seeing as there was no ABM in my room, I knew it wasn't me taking the cash out.
I called the number on the back of my card and the company immediately locked down my account. My replacement card was waiting for me upon my return home a week later.