What can we learn from Australia’s biggest credit card fraud investigation

Information verified correct on September 29th, 2016
A man wearing a balaclava holding a credit card in front of a laptop

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me – Here’s how to protect yourself from credit card scammers.

The largest credit card theft investigation in Australia’s history has ended today with the arrests of seven Romanians who were part of a global fraud gang.

The gang had stolen more than $30 million from 30,000 Australian credit cards, and had access to half a million Australian accounts.

The criminals had gained access to the cards by hacking into the credit card systems of approximately 100 small businesses.

Luckily any Australian who lost out because of the theft has been reimbursed according to a statement released by the Australian Federal Police this morning.

In addition, small retailers whose systems were hacked have since improved their security, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that 3.7% of Australians over age 15 experienced credit card fraud from 2010 – 2011. And even though two-thirds of those who disputed the fraud were reimbursed, with Christmas holiday spending set to go into overdrive, now’s a good time to learn some credit card fraud protection.

Safe Shopping – how to protect yourself when shopping online

Avoid online spending sorrow

Australians are set to spend $16 billion this year online, according to research by PwC, so it goes without saying we should watch where this is being spent.

When you’re online, a credit card is the way to pay according to the Australian Bankers’ Association. If you notice any suspicious charges or your goods don’t arrive or arrives broken, with a credit card you can dispute it with your provider.

If you’re shopping online, remember to use a safe and secure website. When you punch in your details to pay for anything online, look in the address bar. If the address starts with ‘https’ it’s secured, and if it starts with ‘http’ it’s unsecured. Secure websites may also show small padlock near the bottom of the browser screen or in the address bar depending on the browser you’re using. Secure websites use protective encryption technology when transferring your credit card details to the shopping website.

In addition, sometimes it’s good practice to research the website you’re about to make a purchase on and read any security or privacy information available. Speaking to previous long term users of the site can also minimise credit card risk.

Finally, if you’re an online shopping addict make sure your computer is protected with a firewall and antivirus software to make sure your information isn’t being stolen from your end.

At the ATM and in-store shopping

Knowing how to protect yourself when withdrawing money from the ATM or purchasing something in a store can also reduce your risk of fraud.

Usually ATM fraudsters attach a skimmer near the card reader entry. Have a look to see if there’s any glue or tape residue near these parts to know if the ATM is safe.

In addition to a card skimmer, there may also be a camera disguised behind fake panels or hidden in the leaflet box which can be used to record you entering your pin.

If you’re buying something in store, make sure your card isn’t taken out of your sight to make a purchase, and if you do notice a strange transaction which you think may be a skimming fraud, contact your provider immediately.

General tips to avoid credit card fraud

While the tips above may help you to avoid any nasty surprises shopping online or in person, here are some general ways to make sure your credit card details are not stolen and used by criminals. The following information is taken from Scamwatch, a Government run website aimed at educating Australians about fraud.

  • If you have to send money to anyone using your credit card, make sure you trust them.
  • Regularly check your bank account and credit card statements for transactions you can’t explain, and flag them with your bank immediately.
  • Never share your PIN or personal details with anyone over the phone or via email unless you’ve called the institution and can verify it’s a trusted source.
  • Keep your cards and personal information in a safe location at all times.
  • If you’re making a purchase online or taking care of some internet banking, don’t use a public computer.
  • Avoid software which auto-completes forms when online. This will make it easier for any internet scammers to get your details.

When you make a payment with a credit card your provider sends the funds to the merchant’s provider through a financial service such as Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Each of these services has it’s own ways of protecting customers from various scams.

Visa credit cardVisa

Smart cards. One of the more noticeable security features to be rolled out on credit cards around the world is the security chip. Making a payment using the chip rather than the magnetic strip means you’re protected against the card skimming mentioned above.

Verified by Visa. Visa also have ‘Verified by Visa’ – a service which sends you an SMS when you make a purchase online to verify it’s actually you making the purchase. All you need to do is set up your Verified by Visa details with your provider, and look for the logo when shopping online.

Zero Liability policy. Visa also have a Zero Liability policy, which means you’ll never be held responsible for fraudulent charges made using your card.

MasterCard credit cardMasterCard

In addition to chip technology in cards and a zero liability policy, MasterCard also have an SMS verification system like Visa does.

MasterCard Securecode. This is a similar service to Verified by Visa, and provides you with a code from your bank before making a payment.

American Express

Fraud Protection Guarantee. Similar to the zero liability policy MasterCard and Visa offer, American Express will not hold you responsible for any fraudulent charges provided responsible care is taken.

Secure system. American Express offers their own brand of credit cards which is unique in comparison to MasterCard and Visa. This means if you’re using an American Express credit card you’re eliminating one of the intermediaries usually present and in turn decreasing the number of ways where you could get scammed.

Early detection system. American Express monitors your transactions for suspicious activity just as any provider would. If they notice anything out of the ordinary they’ll contact you.

Personal fraud is on the rise in Australia according to the ABS, so you should get acquainted with the different methods criminals try to use to get your money. But even if fraud, including that of a credit card nature, is on the rise, it doesn’t mean you have to resort to less convenient ways to make purchases. If you follow the above tips when making any purchases or withdrawing any cash then your money can stay safe throughout this Christmas spending period.

Credit Card Fraud, Traps and Scams Guide

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