Protecting your debit and credit cards

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Fraud Survey revealed that close to

500,000 Australians were victims of identity fraud in 2007, with around 380,000 experiencing credit or bank card fraud and close to 129,000 being victims of identity theft. More than 450,000 of the surveyed victims lost money as a result of the fraud, with the combined financial loss from personal fraud totaling close to one billion dollars. The average loss per victim was $2,156.

In addition to financial losses, identity crime has significant indirect costs for individuals.

Victims often experience damage to their credit rating and spend considerable time and money to restore transaction records, credit history and reputation - they may also have a criminal record created in their name. For these reasons, identity crime can cause significant trauma and stress to its victims.

However, if you are a fraud smart individual you can protect yourself against credit and debit fraud. Follow these simple steps to ensure you're not the next victim:

  • Only carry the cards you need. Many consumers carry every credit and debit card they have in their wallet yet few of these cards get daily use. The risk of a lost or stolen card is significantly reduced if unused cards are left at home.

  • Cancel any cards you don't use or don't need. If it doesn't get used you don't need it and by cancelling the card you reduce the risk of it being lost or stolen. Contact the issuing financial institution in writing and cut the card into small strips before you dispose of it.

  • Never keep your pin numbers in your wallet. It's difficult to remember all your different pins so it's common for people to write these details down. This practice is fine provided the information is stored in a safe place and is not kept in your wallet with the cards.

  • Include a sticker on your card which says please check my photo ID. By requesting that you show your own photo ID when using your credit or debit card you decrease the likelihood that someone else can access your account.

  • Check your bills and statements. Checking your statements carefully every month is a good habit to get into. Or, if you are particularly vigilant you can go online to check transactions even more frequently. Remember, the quicker a problem is recognised the less damage that can be done.

  • Make photocopies of your cards and keep them in a safe place. By photocopying the front and back of your cards you will have all the relevant information you need to contact the card issuers and report the lost or stolen items. This will also help limit the damage.

Credit and debit cards are convenient however, you should be aware that they can pose a serious risk if lost or stolen. Taking precautions to protect yourself from fraud can significantly reduce these risks.