A friend of mine recently received a letter in the mail from a well-known credit card company threatening to sue if he didn't pay approximately $6,000 in charges to the account that had not been paid in months. Here's the problem - my friend did not have an account with this credit card company, never had an account with them, and was completely unaware of any account in his name.  Apparently, some unscrupulous person had taken out the credit card in his name some years ago, racked up thousands of dollars in charges, and, obviously, left them unpaid.  Now my friend has to deal with not only being a victim of identity theft and credit card fraud, but also has to deal with these charges or else risk serious consequences with his credit.  Unfortunately, this story probably resonates with too many of you. 

Here are some tips from the FBI to avoid credit card fraud: 

  • Don't give out your credit card number(s) online unless the site is a secure and reputable site. Sometimes a tiny icon of a padlock appears to symbolize a higher level of security to transmit data. This icon is not a guarantee of a secure site, but might provide you some assurance.


  • Don't trust a site just because it claims to be secure.


  • Before using the site, check out the security/encryption software it uses.


  • Make sure you are purchasing merchandise from a reputable source.


  • Do your homework on the individual or company to ensure that they are legitimate.


  • Try to obtain a physical address rather than merely a post office box and a phone number, call the seller to see if the number is correct and working.


  • Send them e-mail to see if they have an active e-mail address and be wary of sellers who use free e-mail services where a credit card wasn’t required to open the account.


  • Consider not purchasing from sellers who won't provide you with this type of information.


  • Check with the Better Business Bureau from the seller’s area.


  • Check out other web sites regarding this person/company.


  • Don’t judge a person/company by their web site.


  • Be cautious when responding to special offers (especially through unsolicited e-mail).


  • Be cautious when dealing with individuals/companies from outside your own country.


  • The safest way to purchase items via the Internet is by credit card because you can often dispute the charges if something is wrong.


  • Make sure the transaction is secure when you electronically send your credit card numbers.


  • You should also keep a list of all your credit cards and account information along with the card issuer’s contact information. If anything looks suspicious or you lose your credit card(s) you should contact the card issuer immediately.

If you've already been a victim of credit card fraud, contact an attorney immediately to discuss what legal rights you have to get out of the mess and help protect your credit.  You should also notify the Federal Trade Commission about possible identity theft.  Read the FTC's online brochure about recovering from identity theft by clicking here