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How to Reduce Credit Card Fraud

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How to Reduce Credit Card Fraud

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A few weeks ago, some creep tried to use my credit card number to buy stuff on Amazon — the second time this happened to me in a year.

You probably know this hassle and anxiety. There’s been an explosion in fraudulent purchases made online in the last few years. In most of these cases, thieves only need credit card digits to make a bogus transaction.

I learned two things from discussing my experience with fraud experts: Even if you’re careful, your credit card information will probably be stolen at some point. And we’re mostly on our own to protect ourselves.

Here are some practical protection tips, and thoughts about broader steps to slow runaway fraud.

Sign up for alerts: Fraud experts say the best measure you can take is to sign up for email or phone notifications each time your card is used for a purchase online or over the phone. A barrage of pings is annoying and doesn’t prevent card theft, but it provides a real-time fraud warning. It’s how I caught those two bogus Amazon charges.

Limit the websites where you save card information: It’s not foolproof, but the fewer places where you buy online or save your card numbers, the fewer spots for criminals to hack your personal data. Ragib Hasan, a computer science professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also suggested using PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay or similar options that generate a temporary account number for each transaction.

Be paranoid: Every link in an email or a too-good-to-be-true deal on an unfamiliar website could be trying to trick you to harvest credit card details or other personal information. Instead of clicking on a link in that email that might (or might not) be from Target, just don’t. “If we all work in unison, it would be a lot tougher for crooks,” said Paul Fabara, Visa’s chief risk officer.

Report the fraudulent charge: Tell both your credit card company and the merchant where the bogus charge was made to prevent the thief from running more stolen credit cards. What about the police? Colin Sims, the chief operating officer of the fraud-prevention company Forter, said that credit card fraud is so prevalent that law enforcement doesn’t usually pursue it.

Why can’t companies stop this? Software does flag some transactions that seem out of place, but technology is often behind crooks who are getting more sophisticated at making their charges look legitimate.

Is buying online too easy? Some fraud experts said that it would help if the United States adopted rules like those in Europe, which is tightening requirements for a second step — such as fingerprint verification or a one-time passcode — to make some credit card purchases online. Others have said that these extra protections may give people a false sense of security and aren’t worth the frustration for shoppers and higher costs for merchants.

We should not accept credit card fraud as inevitable. Even if it never happens to you, the fortune that companies spend on fraud prevention ultimately is reflected in higher costs for everything you buy.

Your take

A few readers wrote in last week asking why I didn’t give more weight to concerns expressed by some U.S. lawmakers that TikTok, the video app from the Chinese internet conglomerate ByteDance, is a way for that country to collect information about Americans or spread a sanitized view of what’s happening in China.

Mark from El Cerrito, Calif., asked if I should have waited to praise TikTok in this newsletter until U.S. officials can investigate these potential risks.

Those are fair concerns. Unfortunately, the climate of mistrust now between the U.S. and Chinese governments makes it tough to know when fears of Chinese companies acting as a conduit for government spying are real, and when they’re baseless.

ByteDance is certainly worried about the perception from the United States and other countries that it’s acting on the Chinese government’s behalf.

It has tried as much as possible to wall off TikTok from its operations in China, and recently appointed an American executive from the Walt Disney Company as TikTok’s chief executive.

The company also told my colleagues that because ByteDance is legally incorporated in the Cayman Islands, TikTok is not owned by a Chinese company. This is laughable.

No matter how much ByteDance puts TikTok on its own independent island, it can’t escape the reality that it will be considered suspect by some Americans because of its Chinese ownership.

But look, TikTok probably won’t be the last popular app that originates from a country with which the United States has rocky relations.

Should Americans be cautious? Absolutely, just as it’s good to be careful about any company’s use of your information. But as of right now, we haven’t seen evidence that the company is smuggling Americans’ data into China.

  • Don’t forget about voting security: Voting by mail doesn’t increase fraud, but last-minute changes to accommodate remote voting prompted by the pandemic are a hacker’s dream, my New York Times colleagues write. Mail-in voting depends on the security of online state and local voter registration databases, which experts warned could be locked by hackers for financial gain or tampered with by outside actors.

  • Remote school is leaving kids behind: New research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had attended in-person classes, my colleague Dana Goldstein reports. The switch to online learning most likely has widened racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, which could get worse if schools continue to do remote learning this fall or are forced to absorb significant budget cuts, Dana writes.

  • Google Docs isn’t just for writing this newsletter: MIT Technology Review writes that the pandemic and anti-police brutality protests are again showing ways that Google Docs has become an unexpected place for activism and widely shared resources. Because the documents are open to everyone and relatively anonymous, people have used Google Docs to compile grocery lists for neighbors who can’t shop on their own, and share steps people can take to support victims of police brutality.

Your heart will melt at this dog eagerly listening to a Stevie Wonder tune on the guitar.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

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