5 Everyday Things You Do That Can Trigger a Bank Fraud Alert

Security breach warning on smartphone screen while using public wifi hotspot, device infected by internet virus or malware after cyberattack, fraud alert with red padlock icon.
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Triggering a fraud alert with your own bank can be a frustrating experience. You know your bank is only looking out for you, but in the meantime, it may result in your hands being tied. In many cases, a simple call or response to a text alert is enough to remove any locks on your account. Still, most of us would probably rather avoid the situation altogether if possible.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to avoid triggering your bank’s fraud monitoring as long as you use your card the right way. Here are five common, everyday behaviors that often trigger fraud alerts, and what you can do to avoid them.

Buying Luxury Items Online

If you use your card to buy luxurious items online, there is a chance it could trigger a fraud alert. This is especially true if you don’t normally buy those items and then one day decide to buy several expensive items in a short period of time. It’s easy to see how that could seem suspicious, from a card issuer’s perspective.

“Buying luxurious items such as expensive watches, phones, necklaces, rings and other types of jewelry can trigger a bank fraud alert unintentionally,” said Christopher Liew, CFA and creator of Wealth Awesome. “Financial institutions check the frequency and the amount of money you spend on your online bank accounts regularly.”

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Changing Spending Habits Frequently

Even if you aren’t buying luxury items, banks tend to prefer predictable behavior. If you constantly change your spending habits, you could unintentionally trigger a fraud alert. “As much as possible, don’t change your spending habits frequently if you don’t want to trigger a bank fraud alert constantly,” Liew said. “Any form of irregularity in the spending pattern of the account holder will trigger a bank fraud alert consequently. Even small purchases that you don’t buy regularly can cause the alarm to trip off surprisingly.”

Spending Money Internationally

Spending money internationally is one of the most obvious ways to trigger a fraud alert. This can happen if you are physically traveling overseas, but it can also happen when making online purchases with an international seller. Some banks, such as Chase, no longer require you to set up travel notifications, but international purchases can still trigger a fraud alert with some banks.

Gilian Manassee, owner of the travel blog jillonjourney.com, said this situation is still fairly common. “There have been incidents where I used my credit card abroad and it got instantly blocked,” Manassee said. “From my experience, this mostly happens when you’re on a different continent and you withdraw money from an ATM. Here, most likely your bank may perceive it as fraud.”

Immediately Making a Purchase With a New Card

One frequent behavior of fraudsters is to open a credit card in someone else’s name and immediately make a purchase (or several purchases). Hence, this can look like fraud from the perspective of your bank. If you quickly make a large purchase — or several purchases that add up to a significant amount — you might cause your bank to put a temporary hold on your account.

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If that happens, your best course of action is to be responsive to any alerts. Whether you receive a call, email or text message, be sure to respond as soon as possible and let the card issuer know the purchase is a legitimate one. If the purchase you made is not unusual for you, the bank will eventually learn your spending habits and adjust its expectations accordingly.

Using Your Card To Buy Gift Cards

Using a credit card to buy gift cards is a common strategy of rewards hackers, but it can also look suspicious to card issuers. According to Liew, gift cards can be sold on the market and converted to cash, so buying them with a credit card is a common strategy for fraudsters.

Buying gift cards for your own use with a credit card can fall into a bit of a grey area, but there are no laws against it (though there may be store-specific policies against it). However, due to the high risk of someone fraudulently buying gift cards with your credit card, there’s a good chance this could trigger an alert — especially if your card is new.

If that happens, be sure to respond to a fraud alert right away if you receive one. This, too, should lessen over time if you regularly buy gift cards with your credit card.

What To Do About Fraud Alerts

If you see a fraud alert after making a purchase, your best course of action in nearly all cases is to respond as soon as possible. If you don’t respond at all or take too long to respond, the charges could be reversed, and the line of credit could be frozen completely.

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In general, fraud alerts are based on what the card issuer knows about you. This is why new cards often trigger fraud alerts — the card issuer may have little to no data available about your spending habits. Over time though, they will generally lessen if your spending habits remain consistent. Sudden changes, however, can again trigger an alert.

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