Protect Yourself, Cardholders – with Katie McMillan

We are joined again today by Katie McMillan, Director of Sales at MPI, the merchant processing partner of First United. Today we're talking about protecting yourself as a cardholder. Katie joins us to offer reminders, tips, and tricks to keep yourself safe while using your credit or debit card.


Man: Welcome to the “What Matters Most” podcast presented by First United Bank and Trust. That’s my bank. Visit us today at

Hello, and welcome to “What Matters Most,” the podcast all about finances, community, savings, and security for you, your family, and your business. This podcast is brought to you by the helpful folks at my bank, First United Bank and Trust. I’m your host, Eric Nutter. And in today’s episode, what matters most are cardholder best practices, and for this helpful discussion, I am thankful to be joined once again today by none other than Katie McMillan, director of sales at MPI, the merchant services partner with First United. Katie, you’re maintaining your status as most frequent guest. How are you?

Katie: We gotta keep it rolling. As always, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Eric: Yeah, no, I’m super thankful for you joining me today and talking about this really important subject. Now normally, when you join, you talk about things that are important to a lot of businesses. As it would make sense, you’re about merchant services. And so businesses accepting credit cards and dealing with all of the stuff, the tech that is required to do that. But today, we’re talking about cardholder best practices. Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re wanting to go with this?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. And listen, merchant services is a bit of a dry topic, right…

Eric: Depends on who you are.

Katie: While I think that most of the content is extremely exciting, right, I think we have something to talk about today in regards to cardholders that might actually be interesting to a lot of people out there. And the first part of that is, what’s a cardholder? A cardholder is someone that uses a credit card or a debit card at a business. So everybody listening to this podcast…

Eric: Basically everybody.

Katie: Yeah, everybody. The demographic of folks that do not have a credit or debit card are very small. And so we in the business like to call consumers that are frequenting our merchants and using credit or debit cards, we call them cardholders.

Eric: And usually, I mean, at least in my world, you’re a multi-cardholder.

Katie: Yes, it’s like that old adage, what’s in your wallet, right? You know, you typically have your debit card with a major credit card brand from your bank. Some folks have Amex as a backup. And you know, sometimes people like to try to give Discover some loyalty.

Eric: Yeah, then you got that card from that store because you get 5% off every purchase. And then you got that other card from that other store because one time you got a free t-shirt from it. And then you got that other card. And at some point in time, your wallet is nothing but cards.

Katie: Yeah, my…The first time that my husband asked me to go into his nightstand to go pick out, you know, like the Best Buy card, I almost had a heart attack, I came out with a stack that was like 3 inches deep. And I’m like, “How many credit cards do we have?”

Eric: Yeah, that is for another episode, about credit exposure. I think we can talk about that. But all these people with all these cards and, you know, the audience is ripe for potential for bad things to happen, like card fraud. So talk to us a little bit about credit card fraud and what’s happening there.

Katie: Yeah, you know, I think that credit card fraud in today’s world has just really become a topic that everybody really understands that you can be unprotected, in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to people just in my personal world that are like, “Oh, yeah, I got compromised last week, you know.” And so, credit card fraud is a very serious issue. And we had a surge in credit card fraud before we adopted EMV transactions here in the States. And, you know, online credit card fraud, in-person credit card fraud. Credit card fraud isn’t just someone stole your wallet anymore. They’ve gotten really creative. And so it’s important as a cardholder frequenting businesses to make sure that that business has ways for you to pay that protect both of you from that fraud exposure.

Eric: Good point. Yeah. So what are some of those types of protections that…I mean, are you saying that there are things that card, the merchant, the company that you get the card through do for you versus stuff that you can do yourself?

Katie: Yeah, so there’s a few ways that a cardholder can protect themselves against fraud, right. And let’s talk about what we can absolutely control. So talking about this as if you were going into a business or going online to purchase something with your credit card, you know, there’s some red flags, there’s some warnings that you have where you’re starting to get into a territory where the chances for fraud are increasing, right. And a few examples of that are, you know, you go into a store and somebody says, “It’ll be $5 for this,” and they go to take your card from you. And while they’re running up your purchase, they have their phone out, and it’s weirdly hovered over your card, that person, it might not be texting their friend. That person could be taking a picture of your card, and then selling that full card number to someone.

And, you know, when you go to the gas pump, if you go to pay outside at the gas pump, you really have to be careful to make sure that there’s a little sticker on gas pumps now that says that it’s been sealed and it’s secure. If you see that little strip of tape over that gas pump and if that strip is broken, do not use that gas pump, because folks have figured out a way to get into gas pumps, and to put readers in there. So when you insert your card, they’re ripping all of your information.

In fact, as a cardholder, right, someone…just not with my merchant services experience, just me as a cardholder, 9 times out of 10 I go inside the pay for my gas, especially if the gas pump is really old and it doesn’t have a sticker. And online purchasing, right, go to good reputable sites, you know, that don’t look like their URL is 3000 characters long, you know, go to Target, go to Walmart. If it’s a small retailer in your local town, make sure it’s their website that you’re purchasing your products from. And at some point during that online checkout, you should be scrolling up or down to see a little seal. A really common seal that you’ll see is or maybe Shopify. Make sure whoever’s hosting that payment experience, there’s a PCI-certified logo on there somewhere. So you know that you’re not entering your credit card information into a website that’s maybe 15 years old and out of date for PCI compliance. And this is just a few of the many ways that you can protect yourself from having your information compromised.

To look at it from the other side, from a merchant perspective, you know, you can implement things that give cardholders an experience where they feel like they’re not getting compromised, implement contactless payments. It doesn’t take a pandemic to realize that taking that credit card from that person’s hand, you know, is not a great idea, you might have an employee that could compromise that card. Put a pin pad in place, put a contactless pin pad in place so that that card is secure and in their hands. For online purchases, go with a reputable name. You know, if I’m on the internet in the middle of the night looking for things as one does…No judgement, okay. Say I wanted to purchase some ceramic unicorns at 2:00, right…

Eric: Callback to a former episode.

Katie: Yeah. So, say I go to do that. If I go to a website and it doesn’t look safe, I’m not gonna do business with it. And so, as a business owner, you need to make sure your website is up to date. If you haven’t had it touched in three years, have it touched. Make sure you have good representation so that people don’t feel like they’re going to some dark website to put their credit card in. You know, that they don’t feel like they’re leaving the page. It feels like a safe place.

Eric: Right. Yeah. I think that it’s important, some people also will see on a website, they’ll be on a website, whether it looks shady or not. If you see that, like, lock up in the corner, that can give you a false sense of security just because…but security certificates are a dime a dozen, you can get them really easily for a website. So don’t purely rely on, well, the lock was there so I’m fine. The site itself might be fraudulent, they might be faking something, if it looks like the deal is too good to be true. I’ve seen that happen a lot where, wow, these are way cheaper on this site than they are anywhere else in the world.

Katie: Warning.

Eric: That might be a sign.

Katie: You know, and I think that one of the best practices that you can implement, right, and this sounds like a silly thing to say out loud, but as a cardholder, you should be banking with a bank that allows you to have either an app or an online access to your banking activity. That real-time or as close to real-time information as possible gives you a warning of something weird is going on with your information. And what that means is that if you go to review what you spent yesterday, and you see a weird 1 cent transaction, or a small dollar amount that you know you didn’t spend, you need to contact your bank immediately because fraudsters with stolen credit card numbers will do little tiny amounts to see if the cardholder notices weird activity.

Eric: Just like a test.

Katie: Just to see if anybody’s paying attention. And you’ll see a few of those things and then all of a sudden, you’ll see the $1500 that they spent for the TV that they purchased at a major retailer, and they’re gone. And likewise for merchants. I had a merchant call me when I was working out in California, and she said, “Listen, I haven’t been using your guys’ service because I’ve been closed for remodeling for the last two months but I got this crazy bill that’s hundreds of dollars and I don’t know why I got it. And I looked at the statement, and I didn’t see any sales. I didn’t see any activity there. But you know, what I did see, I saw hundreds, hundreds of 1 cent authorizations.”

Long story short, an IP address from a foreign country had accessed her gateway because she had an employee that was let go and she never changed her password. And these fraudsters had all of these stolen credit cards and they used her merchant account to just ping each of these cards for 1 cent to see if anybody was paying attention, probably as a part of purchasing that list of credit cards. So you really have to…Yeah, it’s terrible. And I think that if you’re a merchant, you need to check your statement, you need to check your deposits. If you’re getting weird 1 cent deposits and nobody’s testing at your location because your terminal is working, or if you get a bill and you see a bunch of activity that you didn’t do, you need to contact your provider immediately and question that because you’re liable for all of that money if those cardholders start to charge it back.

Eric: Right. And the speed is the key there. Paying attention to it and being on top of it and not putting it off, oh, I’ll get to that in a week, I’ll get to that in a month. Because by a month from now, or a week from now, or even a few days, you could be out thousands of dollars and not even realize it.

Katie: Time is absolutely critical. And it feels like a silly thing to say out loud. But you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this that, you know, pay attention to your banking activity as a person, whether you’re budgeting or not, pay attention to your online activity, and as a business owner, pay attention to that merchant statement that comes every month. If you’re not getting merchant statements, you need to call your provider. You know, we tell our customers all the time that if you get a statement, that first statement you get with us, we always recommend that the merchant calls their rep to go, “How do I read this?” Because we want you to not only understand what you’re being charged, we want you to understand if something doesn’t seem right so we can help fix whatever that might be. And if it’s fraud, we can lay some protection down to minimize your liability.

Eric: Absolutely. Yeah. And that applies as well to our group we’re talking to today, cardholders, I mean, look at your credit card statements or use the tools that are given to you. And you mentioned some of the alerts and things that you can set up making sure that you have, whether it be your credit card company or your bank, or all of the above like most of us have. Setting up all of those tools. Having access to them is great, but they only work if you use them. So making sure that you take the time to go set up those alerts so that you get transaction alerts or low balance alerts or things that can flag you if you’re less reluctant to look at your statement or if your statements…I mean most statements are monthly, so maybe it would be too late. So having those pings throughout the month when something different comes through your account would be helpful.

Katie: Yeah, anytime something isn’t as it’s expected, it’s better to ask and worst-case scenario, you squirrel down and forgot that you bought, you know, $80 worth of ceramic unicorns a 2 a.m. [inaudible 00:15:17]. Nope, I remember that, you know, maybe you have a bottle of wine or something and you forget.

Eric: It’s tough…

Katie: It’s better…

Eric: …if you get into the habit of buying them late at night, I mean, you know.

Katie: You can’t stop, right.

Eric: You just can’t stop.

Katie: It’s better to feel silly for asking something than it is to assume when it comes to fraud.

Eric: Absolutely. So, Katie, any final thoughts, any other protections or tips that you can offer to our listeners to make sure that they’re as safe as possible when it comes to their credit cards and debit cards?

Katie: I think the last the last thing I want to mention is just, you know, go with your instincts. If you go into a business, and you don’t feel comfortable spending your money there because you don’t feel like it’s safe to spend your money there, or if you’re on a website, and your gut tells you maybe I don’t want to do this, listen to it. You know, listen to your instinct. If it doesn’t feel safe, if somebody is taking your card from your hand and you can’t see what’s happening, then, you know, is it really worth the product that you’re trying to purchase to put the risk out there for that?

Eric: Absolutely. Yeah. And you mentioned earlier skimmers on gas stations, gas pumps. But those skimmers can exist in other places too. On ATMs, particularly those I think, like, those sketchy one-off ATMs that have a no name at the top of it and it’s sitting in the back of a store. Looks like the thing hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. You know, I always question how bad do I need whatever it is I’m about to get cash for.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. We have all…A majority of us have had that moment where you need cash and you roll up to some unattended building that has an ATM machine, still says Mac on the outside from, like, 1995. You’ve been like, mm, you know what, maybe you want to do that transaction somewhere else.

Eric: That Mac does not mean it’s from Apple.

Katie: No, no. If anybody out there remembers Mac, you’ll realize just how antiquated that is.

Eric: Good deal. Katie, thank you again so much. I really appreciate you joining me.

Katie: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Eric: Absolutely. Katie McMillan, director of sales at MPI, the merchant services partner with First United. If any of our listeners have questions or want to learn more, the best way they can get the support they need, visit, you can go to our locations page, find the location nearest to you and any of our folks would be more than happy to help you or you can give us a call. You can also contact us through the website, and someone will reach out to you and help support you.

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