THE BLOG
08/06/2015 07:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Had Your Credit Card Hacked Lately?

My credit card information was just stolen -- again. This is the fifth time in the past three years, which, if polling my Facebook friends is any indication, is about par for the course. It happens to everyone, it seems, about once every nine months. And for the record, each time I was hacked, my credit card was still physically in my possession.

There's no need to tell you what a pain in the ass this is, but I will anyway. You have to switch all direct billings from the old card to a new card -- and you invariably forget a few which means you get dinged with late fees. You also have to update all those online shopping sites where you have your credit card info stored. And of course you have to check all three credit scoring sites to see if the theft is causing you any lingering damage. In terms of inconvenience, credit card theft is just one Dante circle removed from losing your whole wallet and having to cancel and replace everything.

The good news is that none of my five thefts have cost me a penny, for which I am very grateful. And in four of the five instances, it was Chase -- my credit card provider -- that discovered the fraud and told me about it. I hadn't had a clue.

In all five cases, Chase closed my account, issued me a new one on the spot and sent me new cards overnight. I get the idea that they have an Amazon-size warehouse full of customer service reps who do nothing all day but close accounts that have been infiltrated by thieves.

In my most recent theft, most of the charges were made in Tokyo and they included a dating app, some junk food bought in a mini-mart, and a bunch of other small purchases. The way credit card thieves frequently work is to first test the waters with small purchases to see if they go undetected before they try to charge something larger -- you know, felony-like larger. In my case, it was a stay in an expensive hotel in Beverly Hills. Nope, I told the helpful Chase rep, I've never been to Japan or an expensive hotel in Beverly Hills.

I can't complain about Chase's fraud detection unit; they seem to be right on top of things. But what I don't get is why this keeps happening and why there doesn't appear to be much of an effort to catch the bad guys. And I certainly don't mean to single out Chase. Credit card fraud is an equal opportunity crime. No one is immune and it certainly doesn't matter which lender you have although different cards hold you to different levels of liability.

Given the prevalence of the problem, where's the prosecution? For the number of thefts to be this widespread, doesn't it mean that people see this as a crime that's easy to get away with?

The Nilson Report puts credit and debit card fraud at $11.27 billion in losses in 2012. That's certainly nothing to sneeze at.

In fact, credit card fraud -- along with national security as it relates to terrorism and identity theft -- are the top two things we most worry about, says Unisys. Almost 40 percent of us were deeply concerned about the security of shopping and banking online.

How are these thieves doing it? Sometimes they just outfox you, technologically. They install skimmers in ATMs or at gas station pumps when no one is around that record credit card information surreptitiously. The information is later resold to criminals who create counterfeit
cards or charge items over the phone or the Internet.

Other times, though, it is simply you being careless. So what can you do about it (besides paying cash for everything)?

1. Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder when you are paying with a credit card in stores. The Department of Justice's website says that this is a still a common way to steal credit card numbers. It's easy to get distracted.

2. Lower your voice, or better yet, keep your mouth shut.
Limit what you say on your mobile phone in public. Thieves get ahold of people's credit card numbers by listening to cardholders' conversations with hotel or rental car companies, according to the Department of Justice. Instead of holding those conversations within earshot, move to a quiet place. Never recite your credit card information in a busy lobby or from the back of a cab.

3. Get a home shredder.
Yes, it's come to that. Destroy every check and credit card or bank statement before throwing them in the trash. Some thieves are dumpster divers, says the DOJ. It only takes one stray receipt to give a criminal all the access he or she needs.

4. Watch where you eat.
Dishonest wait staff have been known to use hidden or handheld devices to copy your credit card for later counterfeiting. They are often tied to a local crime ring, or seasonal and transient workers, said KrebsonSecurity.com.

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