Editorial Policy

I Fell For a Credit Card Scam. Now What?

Erica Sandberg

March 1, 2013

QDear Erica,

I just received a call from an 800 number regarding my Dillard's account. It was a recording and instructed me to call a number for further instructions. I have not used this card in more than a year and forgot that I even had it. So I called, and the woman asked me for my account number and my Social Security number. I gave them to her, and then she told me she'd call me back with a report and instructions. This was yesterday and I haven't heard anything back. I tried to call her back but the number doesn't dial in. Did I do the right thing? — Zoe

AHi Zoe,

Uh oh. I'm afraid that you might have been chatting with a con artist.

The scam generally works like this: A thief calls and says she's from your bank or credit card company, and that your account has been flagged for possible fraud. To stop further illegal activity, she first needs to verify that she's talking to the right person, so asks for information such as your name, date of birth and Social Security number.Ask Erica

She may also ask for your card's number, though sometimes the scammer reads it off, to assure you that she's really from your financial institution. This is a bad sign, however, as it proves that the thief is already holding your credit or debit card or your account statements.

All she needs now is the rest of your financial and personal information so she can really begin stealing from you — and not just your money and credit, but your identity as well.

To find out what's going on, call Dillard's right away. The number is on the back of the card, but if you're not carrying it any longer (or the thief has it) you can access the correct contact information from the company's website. Explain the content of the conversation and ask if they placed the call. Also find out if there is anything amiss with your account. Make sure the balance is correct and that no purchases have been made since the last time you used it.

If you discover that you did give your information away to someone other than Dillard's, ask the store to suspend the old card and issue you a new one. Then contact all of your other credit and banking accounts to find out if there have been any unauthorized charges and alert them to potential fraudulent use. If the thief hasn't gone shopping before you reported the crime, you won't be held liable for any of the charges she makes in the future. If the thief has already bought items, your damages are limited to $50 (often waived by the company), under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

After that, contact the credit bureaus, and consider adding a fraud alert to your credit file. A fraud alert is a notation visible to lenders that asks them to contact you every time someone tries to open a line of credit in your name. Fraud alerts aren't foolproof, however, so you might also consider a credit freeze, especially if thieves have already started attacking your credit. A freeze puts your credit on total lockdown so that nobody, not even you, can open credit in your name without authorization.

In the future, never give your Social Security numbers or credit information to someone who calls you. You're not being rude; you're being safe. Tell the person on the line that you need to verify her identity. If she really is a bank or store employee, she'll know all of your account information, such as the things you bought and the exact date that you last made a payment. A thief won't have access to that data. Ask for her full name, her supervisor's name, which department she works in and her extension. Tell her that you'll use the number from your credit card or the company website to speak with her again. If she can't answer your questions, argues, or sounds put out, hang up and sound the alarms.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.