Credit card fraud is a serious crime that costs card holders and issuers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.  And it doesn’t just take a financial toll on its victims. Trying to repair the damage done by credit card fraud is also stressful and time-consuming.  You can expect to spend many hours trying to restore your good name and in the meantime your credit score and history could end up in the basement while you are sorting things out.

While there is no way to completely protect yourself from credit card scams, there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk.

When you receive your monthly statement in the mail, don’t just toss it aside with all the other bills to be paid.  Open it up and go over it line by line.  Look for any unfamiliar charges that could be a sign of credit card fraud.  Better yet, if you sign up for online access to your account you can keep an eye out for suspicious charges all month long.  If you see any charges that look shady, call the customer service department and let them know immediately. If you keep a vigilant eye on your accounts you can spot fraud right away and put a stop to it before it spirals out of control.

Make a list of all your credit cards, including card numbers, expiration dates, and customer service numbers.  Then put that list somewhere safe.  If your wallet is stolen and your cards are all gone, you can quickly call customer service and have them canceled before the thieves have much time to use them.

Even in this age of technology and cyber-theft, many thieves still use old-fashioned techniques to get a hold of your sensitive information.  Perhaps the most common method is known as dumpster diving, in which thieves rummage through trash cans looking for discarded statements and pre-approved credit card offers so they can open an account in your name.  You’d be surprised how much information about ourselves end up in the trash can.  Make it harder on the thieves by shredding any sensitive documents before throwing them away.

Beware of phishing emails that are made to look like they came from a legitimate bank or credit card company. These scammer emails can look convincing but when you give them your login information so they can “verify your account” or resolve a phony issue, they can gain access to your account to run up all sorts of charges or even open up new accounts in your name.  Always be wary of emails that come from banks or credit cards and if you suspect it is a scam don’t click on any links in the email.  You’re better off going directly to their website or calling the customer service number (the one on the back of your card, not the one in the email as that could be a fake too).

These simple steps will not guarantee you safety from credit card fraud, but they will make it harder for you to become a victim.  For thieves, it’s a numbers game.  There are millions of people out there for them to take advantage of.  If you’ve built up a wall of defense, they aren’t going to waste time trying to knock it down when they can simply move on to the next person who hasn’t taken the same steps to avoid credit card fraud.