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How to Protect Yourself Against Credit Card Theft

Jan 30, 2014 12:14AM ● By Erin Frisch

Credit card fraud takes place all over the world every day. It isn’t completely preventable, but there are ways to make it tougher for thieves to access your information. The theft itself can happen in a variety of ways, from high-tech scanners and hacking to someone simply going through your trash for old bills or statements. Scrupulously protecting your cards and account numbers is the first step in preventing credit card fraud. Keep a record of your account numbers and their expiration dates in a secure place; do not leave bills, receipts, or statements in plain sight around the house, and never lend your card to anyone. Read on for more tips on how to prevent credit card fraud from happening to you and your loved ones.

● Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. Unless you are making a purchase by phone or paying a bill by phone, companies should not be asking for your full account number.

● Carrying your cards separately from your wallet can minimize your losses if your wallet or purse is stolen. Additionally, carrying only the credit card you plan to use can cut potential losses.

● Use your credit card for purchases rather than your debit card. Credit card companies tend to offer greater protection, and your liability is generally capped at $50, whereas debit card liability can begin at $50, but if fraudulent charges go unreported for a couple of days, it can jump to $500, for example.

● Keep an eye on your card during transactions and be sure to get it back in a timely manner. When signing receipts, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total (for example, the “tip” line if you leave a tip in cash instead).

● Check your bills and statements promptly and compare them with receipts from your purchases. If you see charges that don’t belong there, report them immediately to your credit card company. Most have 24/7 customer service available for this.

● Notify your card issuer if you are traveling and will be using a card in a distant city or abroad. The company will put a note on your account for the time you will be away. If they don’t know you’re traveling, you run the risk of having a hold put on your card, since some card companies use purchases abroad to monitor for fraud.

Do you shop or do your banking online? Use the following tips to protect your accounts.

● Clear your logins and passwords from your browser’s cache frequently on your home computer and especially on a public computer. Better yet, avoid using these on public computers if at all possible. See your browser’s help tab to find specific instructions on how to clear these.

● Change your passwords frequently (monthly is suggested), and if you write them down, keep them separate from your username for each site and make sure the list is in a secure place.

● Pay for online purchases with your credit card, not your debit card. The same policies mentioned above regarding protection and liability apply to online purchases.

● Don’t make purchases over Wi-Fi hot spots in coffee shops, bookstores, etc. This can put your information and passwords at risk. These hot spots don’t always require password access and are not as secure as your home Internet network.

● Be aware of phishing—fake “companies” in spam or pop-ups that mimic legitimate businesses to obtain your personal information, which may be used later to access your accounts.

● Always verify that you are on a familiar website with security controls before entering personal information. Check the web address in your browser for “https:” at the beginning, which indicates that you are on a secure website. Also, security may be indicated by a little yellow padlock icon on the bar at the bottom of your browser.

What about RFID (radio frequency identification tags) and wallets to protect theft? This is ultimately an individual decision, but here is a little information about RFID and the ways to prevent credit card fraud from happening to these cards.

● RFID chips may be present in some of your credit cards, usually indicated by a little symbol that looks like the Wi-Fi icon on your phone or computer.

● Most banks or credit card companies will issue you a credit card without an RFID chip upon request. So if you don’t want RFID capability, pick up the phone and give your bank a call.

● There are ways to disable RFID chips in your cards, most of which involve taking a tiny hammer and smashing them. Do this at your own risk.

● Metal is the component in RFID wallets that blocks the RF signal from being read by scanners that thieves use to steal your information. These wallets tend to be pricey ($40–$60). They do make it more difficult for hackers to scan them, but there is no guarantee that your cards will be 100 percent protected.

Finally, if you still get your bank statements or credit card bills as snail mail, be sure to put them through a shredder. It is also wise to shred credit card applications and anything else with your personal information on it.

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