We’ve heard the phrase “it can happen to anyone” many times in life in many different contexts. The point of the saying is to humble us and remind us that no matter how smart and careful we are, bad things can still happen to us. We’re not so smart and careful that we can control everything.
In the realm of security and privacy, it’s very easy for people to start thinking that they can prevent bad things from happening if they’re smart and careful enough. There’s a tendency to think “Oh, people get malware because they’re stupid or go to bad sites like porn” or “people’s credit cards get stolen because they used it on dangerous sites or got malware on their system.”
While I’ve never gone so far as to think these things, I certainly think of myself as a relatively savvy, sophisticated user. I’ve been in the security and privacy business for over fifteen years. I do all the best practices, I’m careful. I’ve never had malware on my system to date (touch wood). I’ve never had my credit card stolen.
That is, until a few weeks ago.
My charmed life came to an end via email from my credit card company one Friday evening. It asked, did I make a charge for $268 with an online vitamin seller in Florida? I knew I hadn’t made that charge. I checked with my wife and she hadn’t either. So that would be no, that’s not my charge.
Fortunately I was home when I got the message and so immediately logged into my online account. I verified online the number for their anti-fraud division and called them while I was reviewing my pending charges. I saw the charge for dinner that I had just made, that was OK. I saw a couple of other charges of mine from the past day or two, those were OK. Then I saw a charge for $4.11 at a hotel in Naples, Florida. I’ve never been to Naples, Florida in my life, so I recognized that as a problem.
After a short wait, I was connected to an anti-fraud agent. I explained that the charge they asked about wasn’t mine. I also alerted them that the $4.11 charge was false (this was most likely a test charge to see if the card was still active). I told her that the other charges were valid. She denied the invalid charges, kept the valid ones and then we went through the process of cancelling that card and reissuing it.
Over the next couple of days I took time to do full security scans on all my systems that I use for online banking (they came up clean). I checked my other credit card statements for any unauthorized activity (no issues there). I’ve mentioned before that I have a real-time identity-theft and credit monitoring service: I was very happy to have that because that gave me confidence that nothing else had happened yet. I contacted my service and put a credit watch in place to thwart any possible future attempts to open unauthorized credit cards. I checked my credit report to make sure nothing slipped through and was opened without my knowing (nothing was).
Once I was done with all of that I then moved out of alert mode into watch mode and have been watching my statements closely to see if there’s any other unauthorized activity. So far, though, there hasn’t. I’ll keep watching closely like this for a few weeks yet.
So there’s the obvious question: how did this happen? None of the obvious means of loss apply to me here. I’ve never lost possession of my card save for at restaurants when you have to give it for them to run the check. So how this card was stolen is a mystery. Most likely the data was lost or stolen through issues with a back-end processor or a retailer.
And that’s really the point of this article. In this era of Target-type data breaches, the simple fact is that now more than ever these things really can happen to anyone. You can do all the right things and still fall victim because someone else isn’t doing the right thing. And this means you have to be prepared for bad things to happen unexpectedly, despite your best efforts.
To help you in case something like this should happen to you, here are ten tips on what to do to better protect yourself in case something like this happens to you and help you recover as quickly as possible.
TOP 10 TIPS: WHAT TO DO BEFORE OR AFTER CREDIT FRAUD
Before an incident
If an incident occurs
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