If their actions weren’t so darn harmful, we’d admire credit card hackers for their tenacity, cunning and creativity. It must take no small amount of talent (and more than a smidge of psychopathy) to constantly be thinking up ways to cheat and steal from honest everyday folks like you and me.
Truth be told, cyber criminals are rarely the nefarious super-villains they are hyped up to be. Sometimes, they are just foolish people making bad decisions, preying upon our carelessness more often than not.
But that doesn’t mean we should make things easy for them. Here’s a list of 10 things you should know to prevent yourself from being a victim, or what to do should it unfortunately happen.
1. Look out for unauthorised charges or unfamiliar merchants
It goes without saying that you should scrutinise your credit card statements for any anomalies. In practice, few people pay this level of care and attention to their bills. This is how criminals slip unauthorised transactions under our noses, such as in the infamous $9.84 scam, where hackers profit when victims neither noticed nor questioned the relatively minor charge of US$9.84 on their statements.
If you spot an unfamiliar merchant or can’t seem to place a charge, contact your bank. They can provide further details which can help you verify the authenticity of the transaction.
2. Sign up for bank transaction notifications
If you haven’t already, sign up for alerts whenever charges are made to your credit card. You should set the alert for an amount which you don’t normally spend; doing so will help you spot unauthorised activity on your card.
However, all the alerts in the world won’t help if you can’t view them. Therefore, choose a channel via which your bank transaction alerts are sure to reach you (such as SMSes), and not, say, get buried under tons of unopened spam mail in your junk folder.
3. Only shop at reputable websites
By default, most of the latest versions of web browsers today block connections to unsecured websites, so if you get a warning not to proceed to your intended website, you should heed the warning.
To be doubly sure, make sure the website you are surfing to has https:// in the beginning of their URL. This indicates an encrypted connection between your browser and the website, which stops hackers from reading sensitive information.
4. Never connect to untrusted WiFi networks
Another easily overlooked safety measure is to make sure you only shop or bank online when you are connected to a WiFi network you know and trust, such as the one in your home.
Open WiFi (ie, those not locked by a password) for public use is the worst culprit, as hackers can connect to the network and literally pluck your data out of the air. Connecting to secure (https://) sites over open WiFi is theoretically safe, but can still expose you to phishing attempts where criminals redirect you to a bogus website that steals your data. If you really need to use an open WiFi, be sure to use a VPN (virtual private network) to hide your data.
What about office WiFi networks? Again theoretically, office WiFi networks should be secure, but it really depends on a number of factors. For one, if your company’s IT department is not on their game, they may be running outdated software that could be exploited.
For another, remember that anything that happens on the office network can be viewed by people with the right level of access, such as that creepy mouth-breather whom none of his IT colleagues want to have lunch with. Think about that the next time you decide to indulge in some lunchtime shopping on your work computer.
5. Public USB sockets are not safe either
Since the only thing worse than not having WiFi is running out of battery power, it can be tempting to jack your charging cable into any old USB socket you see just so you can finish your Insta-story.
Well, doing so could expose you to nasty malware that will let a hacker take control of your phone or tablet.
What dark sorcery is this? Well, remember that USB sockets pass both power and data, which means a hacker can modify a socket to install spyware and viruses on your device, and you’d be none the wiser. Once they have control of your phone, they can easily uncover your passwords and other critical information.