There is nothing more embarrassing than having your credit card be declined when you are trying to pay for something.

This is what happened to me which led me to find out my credit card had been compromised.

I had just finished spending 3 hours at the hair salon getting a whole new look – so you can just imagine how mortified I was when my credit card came up as declined.

In a panic, I called my credit card provider and spoke to a customer service representative who informed me that my credit card had been compromised.

What?

Apparently, somebody had been using my card to go on a very expensive shopping spree – a shopping spree that I never would have dreamed about going on myself. $600 here, $500 there, $450 somewhere else…

The rep reassured me and told me I was not liable for fraudulent charges.

But how could this have happened?

Apparently, there are lots of ways…

Lesson #1 – Terminals can get hacked

Terminals can actually be “hacked”, also known as “skimming.”

Skimming is when hackers put a device, called a skimmer, onto a credit card terminal. So, whenever customers swipe their credit cards on that terminal, the skimmer will record and store the card details in it.

Credit Card Fraud Terminal Skimming

Later, either the hackers will return and simply collect the skimmer, or they will use a Bluetooth device to transfer the collected data.

With the collected credit card data, the bad guys can clone credit and debit cards, and use them to make online purchases.

It all sounds very conspiracy-theory-esque, but it is possible, and actually happens on a day-to-day basis all over the world. Installing skimmers can take as little as 3-5 seconds to place on a credit card terminal.

In my story, the day before my card got compromised, I tried to pay for gas with my credit card at my local gas bar. The clerk informed me that debit machine wasn’t working, but that I could try swiping my card anyway. I believe this is possibly how my number was stolen.

Lesson #2 – Your phone and computer can get hacked

Computer hacking is a bit more common knowledge, since computers have been around longer.

But, now, hackers can actually get into your mobile phones (which are becoming more and more like mini-computers in their own right).

For computers, usually you get viruses or malware from opening “infected” emails, or downloading a program of software with a virus or malware in it.

Now, hackers can actually get into your cell phone by means of “software updates” that aren’t really software updates, malicious mobile apps, and even unsecured wifi networks.

Software updates

It’s important to know when your operating system is due for its next update so you can be vigilant in the defence against getting your phone hacked into. It’s important to know exactly what you are downloading onto your device.

Downloading apps

It’s also very important to use caution when downloading mobile apps. Make sure the app comes from a trusted source.

Secure Wifi Network

Never connect to open Wi-Fi networks that you don’t trust. Just because it’s free, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. In a public place, ask the staff for the Wi-Fi you can connect to instead of randomly connecting to any open network.

Related: Why Credit Card Research Could Pay Off Big

Lesson #3 – Often, there is nothing you can do…

More often that we think, having our credit card information compromised is not our fault.

In this day and age, nearly everything is done online – from adjusting your home’s temperature remotely, to online shopping, even ordering coffee before you even get to the coffee shop. We are putting our trust into the companies who create this software to take good care of our precious personal information.

Sadly, some of these companies are not as vigilant as as they should be, when it comes to cybersecurity.

Just recently, British Airways experienced a breach involving 380,000 customers between August 21st and September 5th.

Another alarming headline: Air Canada’s mobile app was also breached, and 20,000 customers had their personal information compromised.

Cybersecurity is a huge, expensive and complicated investment for small and medium sized companies. But, for larger corporations that handle much more important information on a daily basis, we should be seeing less and less of these data breaches.

Lesson #4 – The credit card company’s got your back

Usually, your credit card network will detect fraudulent charges almost right away based on whether or not the transaction seems peculiar or suspicious.

If the amount is much higher than usual, or if the transaction is made in a totally different province or country is enough for them to flag it.

They will typically freeze your card to keep it from making any other charges, and give you a call to let you know. So this is why it’s a good idea to give your credit card service provider a call before you go on vacation or plan a larger-than-usual purchase.

Related: 16 Types of Credit Card Insurance (You May Not Know About)

That being said, always…always…go over your credit card statement every month to be certain. If you see any suspicious charges being made onto your card, make sure to report it to your issuer right away.

Thankfully, fraudulent charges don’t affect your credit score.

Here is a list of Canadian Credit card issuers and their Customer Service lines to call if ever you think your credit card has been compromised.

Issuer Customer Service Line
American Express 1 (800) 869-3016
BMO 1 (877) 225-5266
CIBC 1 (800) 465-2422
MBNA 1 (888) 876-6262
National Bank of Canada 1 (888) 483-5628
RBC 1 (800) 769-2511
Scotiabank 1 (800) 472-6842
TD 1 (866) 222-3456

Lesson #5 – What you can do to prevent pilfered data

There are 14 preventative measures that you can take to protect your information.

  • Regularly check your transactions online or on your monthly statement.
  • Never give out your credit card information over the phone, over the internet or over email unless you are absolutely sure you are dealing with reputable, safe company.
  • Never write down or share your Personal Identification Number (PIN) with anyone.
  • Change your PIN regularly, and make sure that the number isn’t something too obvious (phone number, address, birthdate).
  • Never give out any information about your credit card. Banks will never call you to ask you for your credit card information (expiration date, PIN, security number on the back of your card, etc.), unless you call them.
  • Protect your credit cards like you would protect your cash – never leave them unattended in your car or at work.
  • Sign the back of a new card as soon as you get it.
  • At a credit card terminal, always try inserting your card chip-end first before attempting to swipe it. This way, you reduce the risk of having your credit card “skimmed.”
  • Call customer service immediately if you don’t recognize a charge on your card.
  • Call customer service immediately if you suspect your card has been stolen or lost.
  • Take all receipts and carbon copies home with you, such as those from ATM machines, self-service gasoline pumps and restaurants; destroy them by shredding before throwing away.
  • Keep your eye on your credit card during transactions, and ensure that your credit card has been returned to you.
  • When disposing of old receipts and statements, don’t use public waste bins.
  • Be on the lookout for “phishing” email fraud – this is when hackers pretend to be legitimate companies asking you for your credit card information. Legitimate companies will never ask you for your personal information over email.

Related: 12 Credit Card Mistakes You Can’t Afford To Make

14 Ways To Protect Your Credit Card Information

Keep calm and carry on – with caution

The bottom line is, sometimes, there is nothing you can do to protect your information.

There will always be bad guys out there looking to steal people’s money, and they will always get smarter at the same rate as our technology gets smarter.

But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful when something seems suspicious. There are things you can do in your day-to-day life to help prevent credit card fraud.

Being responsible and eagle-eyed when it comes to your finances is an absolute must.