Credit card fraud and identity theft are always a risk, no matter how careful you are with your personal information. But you shouldn’t wait until you run into trouble to start thinking about how to protect yourself from fraud. With some common sense precautions, you can reduce your chances of running into problems.
Be careful with your data
You probably know that you need to be careful with your credit card numbers, but any piece of information can make it easier for a thief to get access to more information—which could let them steal anything from your credit cards to your identity.
Whether you’re online or offline, these six tips will help keep your data yours:
- Don’t use the same passwords for multiple services. Don’t use the same passwords for your online banking and other services. If one service is compromised, using the same password makes it easier for thieves to jump into your other accounts.
- Don’t enter sensitive information. Try to avoid entering information such as credit card numbers or personal data on a shared, public computer. If you do log on to a website using a shared computer, be sure you log out again before you walk away.
- Don’t shop or enter sensitive information when you’re using public Wi-Fi at the library or coffee shop. Traffic on public networks is not always secure, and there is a chance that anyone could be watching.
- Be careful about sharing sensitive personal or financial information online, especially on social networks. Even if your profile is private, your information could be seen by more people than you realize. If you share too much, it might lead to identity theft.
- Don’t send sensitive information or financial documents by email. If a company is asking you to do so, it could be a scam because email is not always 100% secure.
- Be sure to shred financial documents with personal information so that thieves cannot steal your identity just by peeking in your trash. This includes items like credit card applications that come in the mail.
Practice safe spending
Using your credit or debit card to make purchases is where your credit card number and other financial information are most likely to be stolen.
By taking some security precautions when you shop, you can reduce your risk.
- When you’re shopping online, be sure you’re doing so securely. Most browsers will have a small shield or lock icon next to the page address on a secure page. You’ll also want to be sure the web address is preceded by “https.” The “S” stands for secure. If you don’t see these security signs, you may want to shop elsewhere.
- Make sure you’re shopping where you think you’re shopping. Many scammers will mimic the looks of legitimate websites or emails and try to talk you into entering your credit card information. Double check to make sure the web address is the right one, and if anything seems fishy about the website, contact customer service before you hand over your credit card information.
- Similarly, be wary of calls, emails, or even letters that warn you of overdue bills with dire consequences—these types of notices can be potential scams. Instead of giving them your information, hang up and call the business directly. Use a contact number listed in the phone book or on their websites so that you can be sure you’re talking to actual business and not an impostor.
- You may want to use a credit card rather than a debit card for most purchases. Credit cards typically have better fraud protection than debit cards. Even a debit card with the best fraud protection will remove money from your account (which your financial institution may need to put back); whereas with a credit card, you may simply not need to pay the bill for fraudulent charges.
Keep your eyes open
The most important part to avoiding fraud is to have sharp eyes on your financial information. Whether you monitor your accounts or account statements online or by mail, make sure to look at your financial statements regularly. That way you can notify your financial institution immediately if you spot any suspicious transactions, so they can be resolved quickly.
You should also keep an eye on your credit report where bad financial news could indicate that someone has stolen your identity. You can get your credit report for free from annualcreditreport.com.