The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year—but also one of the most expensive. According to retail publication Industry Insider, consumers spent about $674.5 billion on the holidays last year—and that's not counting travel.
What's more, many people spend money in ways that are out of character with their habits. Think about it: whether you're buying a bracelet for your mom or concert tickets for your nephew, chances are that your holiday gift list is taking you into stores that you normally wouldn't visit, where you're spending far more money than usual. Unfortunately, that string of atypical transactions can make your credit cards vulnerable to fraudulent charges.
"It's easy to get distracted on the checkout line or not have time to check your credit card activity as frequently as you normally would," explains BJ Mahoney, General Manager of Chase Card Services. "Cards are out of wallets and purses more often and card numbers are exposed more than usual."
Here are four ways to protect yourself from credit card fraud this holiday season—and the one thing to do if you find out that your account has been compromised.
1. Trust the tech
Chances are your bank is already using cutting edge technology to keep you and your finances safe. A growing number of banks are implementing cutting-edge authentication tools that are far more secure than passcodes. "We began using voice biometrics to authenticate customers in our phone centers," Mahoney says. Tools like voice recognition, facial recognition and fingerprint authentication are becoming more common and easier to use.
Mahoney also notes that banks have used artificial intelligence (AI) for years to help identify out-of-pattern credit card usage. By comparing a purchase against a customer's prior card usage, AI can calculate the probability that a card has been stolen or hacked—providing early warning of possible fraud.
2. Lock it up
Imagine you've lost your credit card in a busy department store. You don't want to cancel it—you still need it to buy presents, after all—but you also don't want to take a chance that a thief is using it. What can you do?
A growing number of banks allow users to temporarily pause any new transactions. For example, if you're a Chase cardholder, you simply log on to Chase's website or app to instantly block new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers. Once you've found your card, you can log back on and unlock your account. Of course, if your card has been stolen or permanently lost, you'll need to call your bank and report it missing.
3. Stay notified
If you haven't already signed up for bank notifications, now is the time to do so. "We use phone, text, and email to alert customers when we want to verify recent activity," explains Mahoney. These early notifications can alert users to suspicious activity—or ensure that an unusual holiday purchase isn't evidence of a card breach.
With most banks, setting up notifications is easy: simply log in to your account online or through your mobile app and add your preferred method of communication.
Always be diligent about monitoring your credit card activity, not just during the holiday season.
4. Check your accounts
Though AI can detect big, suspicious charges, your bank may not detect smaller, more nuanced inaccuracies. For that reason, it's important to manually review your transactions, too.
"It's important to always be diligent about monitoring your credit card activity, not just during the holiday season," Mahoney says. "Once it becomes a habit, you won't have to think twice about making holiday purchases." When it comes to security, few things are better than checking your bank account every morning—especially during high-transaction periods, like the holidays.
Your card has fraudulent charges...now what?
Even when you're extra careful, credit card fraud still happens. If you think you've been compromised, speak with your bank immediately. While you're at it, ask your bank about its liability protection program. Many banks offer zero liability protection, which means you won't be responsible for any unauthorized purchases.
It's impossible to completely protect against fraud, but account notifications, increased security, and other tools can help you ensure that, even when the worst happens, you're still protected. And, with quick bank responses and safety options like card lock, you'll be in a great position to resolve your problem—and return to the holiday fun!