No matter who you are or where you’re from, we all have something in common: the dread of logging into one of your financial accounts and seeing charges that aren’t yours. While there are many ways to protect yourself from fraud, there were more than 3.2 million reports of identity theft or fraud in 2019, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network. What’s worse is that the same report noted that consumers lost $1.9 billion due to those same occurrences.
What is an unauthorized charge?
An unauthorized charge is any purchase or account debit that you did not initiate. While it can show up as a withdrawal, more often than not, it shows up as a credit card or debit purchase. These charges can be for any amount — even small, insignificant totals. In fact, many impostors who have gained access to a new account will start small — a coffee at a gas station, for example — to ensure that the card information works and that they can get away with it. If that charge goes through without being noticed, they may try for bigger purchases or withdrawals. Without appropriate oversight, a financial account can be drained in a matter of hours.
What should you do if you find an unauthorized charge?
One of the best precautions you can take is by making it a habit to review all of your financial accounts consistently. This is the best way to be able to tell if something is amiss or if a charge has mysteriously appeared on your account. This step is even more important as many financial institutions require that you dispute fraudulent or misleading charges within 60 days. If you aren’t keeping a close eye on your accounts, you may not catch fraudulent charges in time — or worse yet, you may not notice them at all.
If you do happen to see something out-of-place on a statement, there are a few things you need to do immediately to prevent future problems and to work on setting all of your accounts straight. Keep in mind that every institution has different policies and each fraud scenario is different, so your path may include one, some, or all of the following steps:
1. Contact your financial institution/credit card company.
As a first step for everyone, make sure you contact your financial institution (i.e. credit union or bank), or credit issuer immediately and let them know. This way, they can block access to your affected accounts and notate the day of discovery. Typically, they will do some fact-finding to determine if you have any idea how you were compromised, as well as what avenues they need to take to protect both you and them from any future fraud.
2. File a fraud or police report.
Your financial institution will often require that you file some sort of police report or formal complaint to have a record of the fraudulent activity. Some will even help you in the endeavor. While it may seem extreme, this is a step you won’t want to skip — if it turns out that the theft or fraud is worse than you initially thought, you’ll want to have the proper documentation in place.
3. Dispute the charge.
While most institutions will consider your initial complaint a dispute, others — especially credit card companies — will require you to formally dispute the charge. Typically, this is as simple as filling out a simple statement, but it can vary from company to company. Be sure you ask what the company requires, so you are following the correct procedure — especially if you are missing funds that need to be replaced.
4. Contact the vendor.
You’ll also want to call the vendor or store where the charges were made to let them know that they, too, have been compromised. Fortunately, many credit card statements now provide the name of the company and a connected phone number, so that this notification can be made as easily as possible.
5. Get a new account.
Unfortunately, depending on the severity of the fraud, it may be recommended to shut down your current account and open a new one. This will help keep your account as safe as possible in the future. This preventative step may come with some inconveniences, especially if you’re one of those people who has their account number memorized or have your account information stored for online bills and subscriptions. However, it may be necessary to keep someone from using your account as their own. Depending on the type of account and how it was affected, it may mean a new card is issued, but it could also mean everything must shift to a new account. Whatever that requirement, it’s worth the temporary inconvenience to protect your assets.
6. Keep monitoring your account.
To help prevent future threats to your finances, keep a close eye on all transactions going in and out so you can spot anything out of place. Do this, not only on the compromised account, but all of your other financial accounts, as well.
How can you prevent unauthorized charges on your accounts?
In addition to taking the necessary precautions while shopping online, there are a few other ways you can protect yourself from someone getting a hold of your banking information.
1. Keep your computer safe.
These days, approximately 56 percent of bills are paid online. If someone can get to your account information through your computer, they can cause trouble for you. To prevent this, make sure you have appropriate malware protection installed, that you are on the lookout for phishing or pharming emails designed to steal your info, and that you are using secure sites to shop and pay bills.
2. Check for skimmers.
Adept scammers have gotten clever — even going so far as to develop virtually undetectable technology that sits over card scanners at gas pumps and other stores. These “skimmers” scan your card and store all of its information remotely, to be used or sold to someone else in the future. To detect one, give the front of the scanner a little tug to see if it’s stable — a real skimmer will have to be quickly dismantled and is likely to come loose. If you’re feeling extra “sleuth-y,” use your phone to check for a Bluetooth signal near the pump or scanner. Thieves typically use Bluetooth to transport information. If you see a Bluetooth device with a long string of numbers trying to connect, it may be a sign of a potential threat.
3. Secure all financial documents.
From checks to bank statements, each piece of paper with financial information on it could be a liability if it falls into the wrong hands. Keep checks in a safe place — somewhere other than your purse or car dashboard — and when you discard old financial documents, make sure to redact them of all information and toss them into a shredder first.
4. Keep your card in your possession at all times.
One of the best ways to prevent unauthorized charges is to, in addition to the steps above, make sure your card never leaves your possession. That could mean asking a member of waitstaff to run your card’s charge in front of you and taking extra care to make sure you don’t forget it and leave it behind.
At Spero, our priority is your financial wellbeing and the safety and security of your finances. We want to make sure you’re protected however we can, and we’re here to help make sure that every online interaction is safe and secure. Instant Fraud Alerts is just one way we help protect your money! If our system detects suspicious activity on your card, you’ll receive an email and/or text message with details about the suspicious transaction. And remember, we’ll never ask for sensitive information by text or email. If you are ever in-doubt that an email, text message, or phone call is from us, please contact us immediately.