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COLUMN:Don’t let hackers spoil your holiday

With holiday shopping upon us, the big guy in the red suit is making a list and checking it twice to ready for the season.
Missing from his “nice” list are those “naughty” credit card hackers waiting to steal your credit information. Last year, hackers threatened to suck the fun out of the holidays by pilfering account information from Target customers, and more recently at Wells Fargo and Home Depot.
As a credit card fraud expert and risk manager at Apple Federal Credit Union, I offer ten tips on how to protect yourself and your money this holiday season and beyond.

1. Periodically check your accounts online. Don’t wait for your monthly statement to arrive in the mail. If your account has been compromised, the crooks would have had time to run up your account. Report unauthorized transactions immediately.

2. Keep your PIN in a safe place. Don’t use an easy-to-guess PIN like your birthday. Do not write your PIN on your card or carry it in your wallet. Have a different PIN for each card. Keep your card numbers and the associated toll-free phone numbers in a lockbox at home.

3. Don’t give account information over the phone. No credit union or bank representative should ask for your PIN, so hang up on callers who ask for such personal financial details. This goes for unsolicited emails and text messages too.

4. Set up account alerts. You can place transaction alerts on your accounts so you are notified when transactions occur outside of your normal spending patterns. For example, if a $500 or more transaction occurs, you will be notified.

5. Report a lost debit or credit card immediately. Under federal law your liability is limited to $50 for unauthorized use of a debit card, but only if you report it within two business days.

6. Understand what your financial institution does to prevent fraud. Fraud can occur at financial institutions big or small. What is yours doing to ensure your safety? Is it compliant with Payment Card Industry Standards? Would it automatically credit your account for the loss? What if you miss the two-day time limit?

7. Know how your financial institution will treat you if you are a fraud victim. Not all financial institutions are created equal. For example, at Apple we monitor members’ accounts 24/7. If fraud occurs, we provide our member an extended grace period, rather than the standard two days. We also immediately credit the member’s account for the full amount of fraud charges while we conduct an investigation into what happened. These practices vary among institutions.

8. Pay attention at ATM terminals. Look around before you start a transaction and leave if you spot anyone or anything suspicious. Listen to your gut.

9. Don’t be the victim of a skimmer. Crooks skim credit and debit card information by attaching fake card readers and secondary keypads to ATM machines and other payment terminals. Don’t use a machine that looks like its been tampered with.

10. Make sure your account transaction is complete. Don’t leave the machine until you are certain that the transaction is finished, and you’ve put your cash away. Be sure and take your receipt.

Following these tips will help ensure a safe holiday shopping season, and that Santa is not the only one who knows about those “naughty” hackers. For more tips on fraud protection and cyber security, visit applefcu.org.
- John Harwell is the associate vice president and risk manager at Apple Federal Credit Union.

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