Credit card theft affects millions of Americans every year. According to reports from the Federal Trade Commission, there are on average roughly 9 million identity theft victims annually, and compromised credit cards are among the most common instances of the crime. No matter how careful you think you are about protecting your accounts and keeping your credit card out of harm's way, thieves employ many methods to get a hold of credit information.
How common is it?
In 2008, the Secret Service reported that due to cyber security breaches, more than 361 million customer records from credit providers had been compromised, making millions of customers privy to identity theft. This was an unusual year, as security breaches of this scale are very rare. But these figures show that thieves are constantly searching for new ways to get a hold of personal identification information — such as Social Security numbers — to access a consumer's line of credit or even steal their identity.
How does it happen?
Large-scale security breaches are hardly the only way that credit card theft occurs. For starters, stealing the credit card itself may be the most basic route a criminal will take. If you forget your credit card at the counter when you pay for something at a store, it could be only a matter of seconds before someone comes along and decides to use your card to purchase their items. Even leaving the receipt on the counter following a credit transaction could offer a thief with enough information to access your line of credit. Because these documents have pieces of the account number along with your name and other important dates, a skilled thief could easily use it to put the puzzle together.
How to protect yourself?
If at all possible, never carry more than one credit card with you at a given time. When you are juggling multiple pieces of plastic you are more likely to lose track of them than if you are only responsible for holding onto one card. Organizing your wallet or purse is probably one of the best ways to make sure that you don't make yourself vulnerable to identity theft because you can better keep track of your cards and receipts.
Finally, you may want to consider getting help to keep track of your finances and enroll in a credit monitoring service. It can act like a second set of eyes and alert you to certain activity taking place in your name that could be an indication of fraud.