Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

June 18, 2013
Cyber-thieves: More tips on how to protect yourself from credit card theft

In today's Bee, we look at the pernicious problem of cyber-pickpockets who steal debit and credit card numbers from the computer systems of banks, businesses, restaurants and retailers. Or we can unwittingly give out our financial data to crooks when shopping or chatting online.

How to protect yourself? Here are additional tips:

Check your statements
"Unfortunately consumers' hands are tied and cannot truly protect their credit card information," said Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based security expert for McAfee. His best advice: Be diligent about regularly checking your credit card and banking statements for phony charges.

If you do online bill-paying, you can check your credit card or bank statements weekly, even daily. If you're not online, be sure to check your monthly statement when it arrives in the mail.

"I recommend doing so online," said Siciliano. "Mobile phone apps offered by your credit card companies make it even easier."

Report fraud fast
If you spot a suspicious charge or something you don't recognize, report it immediately to your card issuer. There's a phone number listed on your bill.

Even if it's a small amount, say $2 or such, flag it. Cyber-thieves are known to "test drive" a stolen card number by running small charges to see if anyone notices.

Generally, if it's fraud due to a stolen account number and you report it within 60 days, you are not responsible for any fraudulent charges.

(It's slightly different if your physical credit or debit card is lost or stolen. In that case, you could be held responsible for the first $50 in charges, as long as you report the loss or theft promptly.)

Card denial
If you try to use your plastic and the transaction is denied, it could be due to fraud. If that happens, don't delay in contacting your card issuer to find out what's wrong.

Guard your cards
Avoid letting your credit card out of your sight. Choose ATMs in well-lighted, very public spaces, such as bank lobbies. When using an ATM machine, look for suspicious attachments or unusual wear/tear. Shield your screen when typing in your PIN number. If you feel someone is too close or watching you, walk away and find an ATM machine somewhere else.

Keep a list
Have a list - in a safe spot - of all your cards, the account numbers and expiration dates, and each company's 24-hour reporting line, in case of fraud or a stolen/lost card.

Track credit history
It's also smart to keep track of your credit reports, just to be sure no one is fraudulently opening accounts in your name. By federal law, every consumer is entitled to one free copy - every year - from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can order your credit reports directly by phone (877-322-8228) or online from

"Think before you click"
By disclosing account information on bogus websites or responding to urgent appeals in emails or on social media, we can be vulnerable, said Brian Burch, VP of Consumer and Small Business Marketing with Symantec, a Mountain View-based computer security firm.

"It's essential that people learn to spot the telltale signs of social engineering tricks," he said, such as undue pressure or a false sense of urgency ("Reply now!"), an offer that appears too good to be true, and bogus "officialese" intended to make to make something look authentic.

Consumers should avoid pirated software and "marginal websites," particularly those with adult content. Do not install unsolicited plug-ins if prompted to do so, even on legitimate websites. Links in emails and social media messages should always be viewed skeptically, even if sent from someone you know.

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Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

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