The recent film Ocean’s 8 is the story of a group of thieves that steal a priceless necklace from a famous movie actress, in plain sight. A series of cons are pulled off that enable the heist to occur without the actress knowing. By the time she realizes the necklace is gone, it’s too late. The film was slick, fun and captured moviegoers’ attention.
In an example of life imitating art, actress Demi Moore was the recent victim of credit card theft of more than $169,000. As in the movie, the heist involved a series of cons, including the thief reporting Moore had lost her American Express credit card, intercepting the new card before it was delivered and engaging in lavish shopping sprees at luxury stores, presumably to resell the illegally obtained goods.
While the thief was apprehended, and Moore’s finances were protected, the fact is that her experience is all too uncommon. Credit card fraud is now the most prevalent identity theft facing all Americans. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) found that in 2017, credit card fraud increased by 23 percent over the prior year, with $16 billion unrecovered.
We are all vulnerable – even movie stars. Fortunately, Moore had taken certain precautions in setting up her finances that provided greater protection of her money. Here are some things that could help you.
The Type of Card Matters
In order to have contacted American Express and requested a new card, the thief must have known not only that Moore had an Amex card but the personal details necessary to clear the credit card company’s security check. While these details might have been obtained by the thief through other forms of identity theft, it highlights an important risk we all face – using credit cards versus debit cards.
While the cards might look interchangeable, they are two very different financial tools, with different laws regulating them and different levels of consumer protections. Credit cards come under the Fair Credit Billing Act which means that if someone fraudulently uses your card, your liability is limited to $50.
In sharp contrast, debit cards are regulated by Electronic Funds Transfer Act and the extent of your liability may depend on when you notice the loss. If it is 2 days or less, the liability is limited to $50. Between 2 days and 60 days, your liability increases to $500. Beyond 60 days, you could be liable for the entire amount and a large theft could push you into a precarious financial situation.
Fortunately, Moore was in the habit of using credit cards, not debit cards. While the fraud likely caused emotional stress, she will not be liable for the fraudulent charges.
Monitoring Your Transactions
In the age of Venmo and Apple Pay, consumers may be less vigilant about their data, but the need to protect our credit and financial lives has not changed. It might seem basic, but the best course of action is to review your transactions monthly. It’s a frontline step that will alert you that something is awry.
Further, it is important to check your credit report annually for any errors and inconsistencies. Your credit report might be where you first discover identity theft if you do not recognize an account that has been opened. All Americans are eligible for a free annual credit report from the three credit reporting agencies.
And it might also help you catch a thief. Per the press reports, Moore’s theft occurred in mid-March and she recognized it fairly quickly as she reviewed her credit card statements and noticed items she had not purchased. If she hadn’t been doing this, the fraud could have continued indefinitely. In fact, in most cases, it takes victims several months to discover the fraud.
Your Credit Card Company Can Be A Partner
Americans have an ally in this fight against fraud – and that is the credit card companies themselves. Credit card companies often have tools in place to identify irregular spending patterns. Luxury purchases are often a red flag for credit card companies, especially if they’re made in stores that the cardholder doesn’t frequent or if the item is something they don’t usually purchase.
This safeguard did not help Moore, however. As a star who wears couture clothing and accessories for Hollywood events, a $169,000 charge at a store like Saks might not seem unusual. As a result, it may not have triggered any of the usual security alerts. But for most people, it is a frontline protection against credit card fraud.
Proactivity Is Key
While it might seem impossible for someone as well-known as Moore to have her identity stolen, we are all at risk on a daily basis. The best way to avoid being a victim is to be proactive, use credit cards rather than debit cards, and regularly monitor your credit card statements and credit reports. It is highly likely that every American may deal with identity theft issues as some point, which is all the more reason to be prepared.