Published in Stuff BusinessDay, December 15, 2014
Shopping up a storm, celebrating with family, friends and colleagues, and trying to get everything sorted at work and home before we take off for the summer break. The silly season is in full swing and we’re all in a Christmas rush.
A time of good cheer and peace to all. Except when you find someone’s been dipping into your bank accounts or your credit card has just inexplicably maxed out. This is also the time of year when fraudsters get busy. All that extra retail activity and people out with friends having a few drinks provides plenty of opportunities for criminals to steal your money.
What do the fraudsters get up to, and how can you stop them?
Let’s start with protecting your debit and credit cards and their PIN numbers. If a criminal gets the information off your card, plus your PIN, they can access your accounts. That can happen at ATMs, or when you’re using EFTPOS terminals to pay for purchases at the shops, or a round of drinks at the pub. They ‘skim’ your card details by attaching a device to the card reader, and then ‘shoulder surf’ or use hidden cameras to record your PIN.
You can foil the fraudsters by keeping an eye on your card and PIN. Treat your card like cash and don’t leave it lying around. Never tell anyone your PIN, not even the police, bank staff, friends or family. And when entering your PIN at ATMs and EFTPOS terminals shield the PIN pad with your other hand so no one can see or record it.
It’s a good idea to use the contactless payment option if you can. That way you don’t even need to enter your PIN for payments under $80, and your card stays safely in your hand for the whole transaction.
Many of us also enjoy the convenience of online banking and shopping. There’s a few things to remember when transacting online to help keep you safe from financial crime. Always check you have a secure connection. The website address will start with https. The ‘s’ stands for secure. There may also be a padlock symbol on the page.
Avoid using public computers and public Wi-Fi for online financial transactions, for example at internet cafes, libraries or hotels. The connections are unsecured and personal information can be intercepted by fraudsters.
It’s also important to keep your computer’s anti-virus and firewall software up to date. And always check you bank statements for unauthorised payments. You should tell you bank as soon as possible if you see anything amiss.
These tips also apply if you use your smart phone for mobile banking. In addition, you should use your phone’s password lock feature, keep your operating system and apps updated, shield your passwords from people around you, and contact your bank immediately if you lose your phone.
As well as looking after your card and taking care when banking and shopping online, we also need to be aware of ‘phishing’ attempts. Phishing scammers trick people into handing over personal information, usually by phone or email. Once they have that information, such as your account number, log-in details, or password, they can access your identity and your money.
Phishing is particularly nasty because the scammers often pretend to be someone you might trust, like your bank, a government agency, or even a friend. Always beware of unsolicited contact from anyone who’s asking you for personal information. In all likelihood they’ll be wanting that information to rip you off. The same goes for that ‘lottery’ you won that you never bought a ticket for. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Your bank will never email or phone you out of the blue to ask you to ‘confirm’ or disclose personal information including your name, date of birth, bank account number, PIN or password.
Phishing emails can look legitimate. Think twice about unsolicited emails, even if they look like the real deal. If you receive such emails it’s important you don’t reply to them, click on any links in the email, or open any attached files. Just delete them. And if you think you may have been taken in by a banking scam, contact your bank immediately.
If you are the genuine victim of fraud it’s good to know that your bank will stand by you and reimburse any losses. That promise doesn’t override your responsibility to protect access to your bank accounts.
It’s all about what you can control and what is entirely beyond your bank’s control. If you lose money because you gave someone else access to your bank accounts it would be unreasonable to expect your bank to take responsibility for the loss. While banks go to great lengths to keep their customers’ money safe, fighting fraud is a joint effort.
So while you’re getting into the festive spirit, mind the fraudsters and help ensure you have a happy New Year.