If you’re in the habit of paying your credit card statement without looking it over, you could well be paying charges you didn’t incur.

Before you think it couldn’t happen to you, consider the fact that global credit, debit and prepaid card fraud amounted to $21.84 billion in losses in 2015. What’s more, worldwide card fraud is estimated to total $31.67 billion by 2020. And yes, more than a few of those billions of dollars could very well be yours.

With that said, here’s what to do about credit card fraud if it should happen to you.

Credit Card Fraud Defined

Experian, one of the leading credit reporting agencies says credit card fraud happens in a number of different ways:

  • If you lose your credit card or it is stolen, your account can be used to make purchases or other transactions, either in person or online.
  • Fraudsters can also steal your credit card account number, PIN and security code to make unauthorized transactions, without needing your physical credit card.
  • Identity theft, including illegally obtained information like your name, birthday, Social Security number, credit card numbers can be used to access your existing credit accounts, as well as open new ones in your name.

Under any of these scenarios, criminals gain control of your credit accounts and make as many purchases as your credit limits will allow—leaving you stuck with the bill.

Get in the habit of reviewing credit card statements to avoid missing fraud actions. Follow these tips to avoid credit card fraud. Learn more here!

If You’re Victimized

The moment you discover fraudulent charges against your account(s):

  • Contact the credit card company(s) right away. If you report the situation in a timely fashion, most card companies allow you the benefit of their zero-liability policies. This means you won’t be held liable for the full amount of any fraudulent charges made on your accounts. Under Federal law, you can only be considered responsible for $50 in fraudulent charges if you catch it after a lost or stolen card has been used. If you report the loss before the card is used, you will be held harmless for the full amount of the illegal charges. Further, you cannot be made to cover charges if your card number is used fraudulently while the card is still in your possession.
  • Change your online passwords and PINs to minimize the likelihood of incurring additional charges.
  • Notify the credit reporting agencies and request the placement of an initial security alert on your credit report. In most cases, notifying one of the big three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) will suffice. The one you contact will usually inform the other two. However, given we’re talking about your hard-earned income here, it’s a good idea to notify all three of them yourself to be on the safe side.
  • Reconcile your statements right away and notify your bank/lender immediately if you find signs of fraud.
  • Request a copy of your credit report to look for additional signs of fraud. While activity on existing accounts will show up right away on your monthly statements, new accounts won’t, because fraudsters will have the bills going to another address. The only way to catch this activity is to keep an eye on your credit report.

While you’ll get a copy of your report automatically when you issue a fraud alert, why wait until the horse is out of the barn? You can a get a free copy of your credit report each year.

Along with the rise of online shopping has come the ability of merchants to store your credit card information to make future purchases easier to make. With this in mind, it’s also a good idea to notify all e-commerce merchants with whom you do business to make sure your online accounts are safe.

Left unchecked, credit card fraud can also bury you in debt. If this happens to you, consider working with a company like Freedom Debt Relief to negotiate more favorable repayment terms on your behalf.

The Harsh Truth

One thing is certain; criminals aren’t going away any time soon. There will always be people who are willing to work harder to steal than earn.

Vigilance is key to protecting yourself, along with these tips for what to do about credit card fraud if it happens to you.