A photo of credit and debit cards

Checked your credit card statement lately? There's a chance that fraudulent charges may be on it. 

People are increasingly taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to scam consumers and use stolen credit card numbers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Fidelity National Information Services, a fraud-monitoring service for banks (known as FIS), has seen a big jump in attempted credit and debit card fraud since the coronavirus shut down the U.S. economy earlier this year, the Journal says.

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Most of the fraud was caught before it hit cardholders' accounts, the WSJ says. But consumers still need to be extra vigilant during the pandemic.

"The COVID crisis is a hook scammers are using, but that hasn't eclipsed the old styles of fraud, too," says Christina Tetreault, manager of financial policy for Consumer Reports. "Online shopping has increased, and the FTC is reporting a lot of issues around credit card fraud."

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself.  

Steps to Take

Watch your accounts closely. Look for charges you don’t recognize. If you spot something strange, call your credit, debit, or prepaid card company or bank right away, Tetreault says. 

Consider getting new payment cards. If there was a breach with your debit, prepaid, or credit card, you may want to get a new card with a new account number, Tetreault says. This will keep your account from being used without your permission. If you get a new card, make sure to transfer any automatic payments to it so that you aren’t charged for missed or late payments. 

Take advantage of free consumer protection services. Eva Velazquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, says her organization and the Federal Trade Commission offer letter templates, forms, and advice to help you protect your identity if data has been stolen. In addition, Velazquez says to check with your employer—many offer services that can help you—and look at your policies for homeowners or renter insurance, which may have a rider that offers some kind of identity protection service.

Check your credit reports. In the wake of the pandemic, the big three credit reporting agencies are offering free weekly online reports through April 2021. Go to annualcreditreport.com for details.  

Place a fraud alert on your credit report. If you think your personal information has been stolen, put a fraud alert on your credit report. This warns prospective lenders that they should take reasonable extra steps to verify your identity before granting credit to the person claiming to be you.

To request a fraud alert, you have to contact only one of the big three credit bureaus—EquifaxExperian, or TransUnion. The bureau you contact will pass it on to the other two. (You must place a separate alert with Innovis, a smaller credit bureau.)

Place a security freeze. A security freeze placed on your credit file will block most lenders from seeing your credit history. That makes a freeze the single most effective way to protect against fraud.

If a prospective lender can’t pull your credit report, he or she won’t issue a new loan. That usually stops identity thieves from setting up fraudulent accounts in your name.

There’s a drawback, though. The freeze also shuts out most companies you may want to do business with, including lenders, telecom companies, and insurers.

To give them access when you want to apply for a loan or open a cellular service account, you have to temporarily lift the freeze and set a date for it to be reinstated automatically.

Note that not everyone is blocked from getting your credit report. Banks and credit unions where you already have accounts can still get it, as can collection agencies and certain government agencies.