Credit Card Fraud Prevention Advice

How much truth is there in the popular credit card fraud prevention advice email making the rounds? Internet ScamBusters #201

Today we’re going to do something a bit different. We’ve gotten a lot of questions from subscribers asking if a popular email that is making the rounds with credit card fraud prevention advice is true.

We’ll walk you through the email step-by-step, so you can distinguish the good from the bad advice. We’re doing this because although we’ve written about many of these credit card fraud prevention issues before, this email does provide a good summary of some things you can do to protect yourself from credit card fraud.

Let’s get going…

Credit Card Fraud Prevention Advice

The following email with advice on credit card fraud prevention is making the rounds again. Although some of the points are correct, we decided to walk you through the email by adding ScamBusters Notes below each section where we felt our comments would be useful. The original email is in a different font.

Please realize that 99.99% of the emails like this are completely false — this one is a rare exception in that it actually contains some truth. (You’ll notice though that it does NOT say to send it to everyone you know.) 😉

— Begin Email and ScamBusters Notes —


ScamBusters Note: This subject line raised our suspicions. Attorneys are not known for giving free advice. 😉 (And, it is very possible that this email was not even written by an attorney.)

Read this and make a copy for your files in case you need to refer to it someday. Maybe we should all take some of his advice!

I received this from a corporate attorney I work with. I think we probably all know most of these, but see #6.


A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company.

ScamBusters Note: Given the writing style, tone, and errors, it is unlikely that a corporate attorney actually wrote this email.

1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.

ScamBusters Note: If a scammer doesn’t know what your signature looks like, it will be hard for them to forge it, regardless of what you have on your signature card. Of course, most checks are not matched against the signature cards on file. Nonetheless, this advice most likely can’t hurt, and perhaps it can help.

2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”

ScamBusters Note: #2 is an urban legend and NOT a good idea. We researched it quite thoroughly by calling Visa, MasterCard and American Express. You can read more about this in our first Snippet called Credit Card Fraud here:

3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check-processing channels will not have access to it.

ScamBusters Note: We called MasterCard, Visa and American Express to get their opinions of this advice. They all advised that you write your complete credit card account number on your check.

4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks, (DUH!). You can add it if it is necessary. However, if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

ScamBusters Note: We wholeheartedly agree that you should NEVER print your SSN on your checks. If you have checks with your SSN, shred them after you get new checks printed. There is no reason you should ever have to write your SSN on your checks. The rest of the advice is OK, but if you change jobs frequently, it could be costly to put your work address on your checks.

5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when traveling either here or abroad. We have all heard horror stories about fraud that is committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards.

ScamBusters Note: If you haven’t made a photocopy of the contents of your wallet recently, we recommend you do it now.

6. When you check out of a hotel that uses cards for keys (and they all seem to do that now), do not turn the “keys” in. Take them with you and destroy them. Those little cards have on them all of the information you gave the hotel, including address and credit card numbers and expiration dates. Someone with a card reader, or employee of the hotel, can access all that information with no problem whatsoever.

ScamBusters Note: We believe this is another urban legend. Although it is possible that information could be encoded on hotel key cards, there is no hotel chain we are aware of that actually does this. Further, hotel executives say they would gain no benefit by encoding private information on hotel key cards. Even at resorts where you can use your key to make purchases, the hotel key cards simply contain a flag that authorizes the use of the key to make purchases — it does not contain the actual credit card info.

Unfortunately, as an attorney, I have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieves ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a Visa credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer and received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online. Here is some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. The key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one). However, here is what is perhaps most important of all (I never even thought to do this.)

ScamBusters Note: You should definitely report your credit cards as stolen immediately and file a police report as soon as possible.

3. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

ScamBusters Note: While putting a fraud alert on your account has many benefits, it is certainly not foolproof. In fact, a fraud alert may not prevent a scammer from opening a new account in your name. Creditors are NOT required by law to contact you before they open new accounts or grant credit. For more on the benefits and pitfalls of fraud alerts, see #6 in this MasterCard Security Alert.

Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet and contents being stolen:

1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742 3.) TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

— End Email and ScamBusters Notes —

That’s all for today. We hope you’ve found this step-by-step analysis of this popular credit card fraud prevention email useful. We’ll see you next week.