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(NEW YORK) -- Although consumers enter January preparing to spend less than they did during the holiday season, cybercriminals are still as active as ever and many Americans face the risk of credit fraud.
Based on findings in the 2017 Capital One Credit Protection Survey, people are not taking advantage of the full array of opportunities presented to them to keep their personal information safe. According to the survey, 36% of people could be doing more to protect their credit. The study also finds less than half of people use a credit monitoring tool to have access to the resources needed to improve or protect their credit.
Sarah Strauss, the head of Fraud at Capital One, recently spoke with ABC News about the findings, how and where fraud occurs, and what people can do if they have been hacked.
"Fraud is something all consumers should be aware of," Strauss says. She stresses that although shoppers are especially vulnerable during the holiday season, cybercriminals seemingly never sleep and consumers must be vigilant often to be as safe as possible.
As a fraud expert, she finds that most card users have their information compromised when someone obtains possession of their credit or debit card or the cards' numbers and makes purchases using them. She also sees criminals open or close a new or existing account in someone else's name with their personal information.
To lessen the frequency of these crimes, Strauss recommends consumers take important steps to keep a close watch on their purchases, ensuring their personal information is safe. She asks consumers to sign up for two tools: credit monitoring services and instant-purchase notifications, both of which are often offered by credit card providers.
One example of a credit monitoring tool that Strauss suggests using: CreditWise from Capital One, which alerts users of new activity on their credit report. Instant-purchase notifications, also offered by many card providers, notify users instantly after a transaction is made with their card so that they can track down fraud as quickly as possible if they did not make a specific purchase.
Communication is vital as well. Stauss tells ABC News the most important step consumers can take, along with signing up for purchase and credit monitoring tools, is to communicate with their bank and ensure all accounts are updated and banks have their latest personal information.
Strauss stresses, "Hackers want to monetize your information... before the account owner identifies it." So, account owners need to verify that banks know if users have switched addresses, changed phone numbers, or made any updates to the information associated with their account. It helps to protect hackers cannot use old information to get access to active accounts.
If hacking occurs, Strauss suggests users report the fraud to the card provider and sign up for a free credit report, available on sites such as annualcreditreport.com.
She then suggests contacting the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) and requesting credit reports from them because "sometimes there's different information in those reports… and [users should] take a hard look to make sure there's nothing in those credit reports that you don't recognize.”
Strauss adds that hacking victims should also sign up for free monitoring services with their card providers, if they are not already using them, to keep a closer eye on their purchases.
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