Credit cards have become a preferred way of purchasing for many. They are convenient, accepted by most stores, easier to use than a check, eliminate the need for carrying cash, and may temporarily delay when you have to pay for your purchases.
In addition, credit cards offer stronger liability limits than debit cards to protect your account against unauthorized purchases. The liability limit for debit cards is sliding scale that depends on how quickly you can report unauthorized transactions. And, unlike with a credit card, debit card transactions are removed from your account immediately. This means you have to wait for your bank to restore funds removed without your permission.
Here are some guidelines for using your credit cards safely.
Safe Online Purchases
- Consider a single-use or a virtual card number. Some issuers offer these decoy numbers for online purchases. If a virtual number is compromised, it’s easy to cancel without affecting the real account.
- Some cards require a six-digit code for online purchases. See if your bank offers similar protection.
- Don’t email credit card numbers to complete online purchases or deposits, because email messages are typically not encrypted.
- Protect your account with a strong password.
Physically Protecting Your Credit Cards
- Only have as many cards as you need and carry as few as possible.
- Keep seldom used cards in a safe place.
- Keep a list of your credit card numbers and issuing companies' phone numbers in a secure place.
- If you are expecting a new or re-issued credit card and do not receive it, contact the issuing company immediately.
- Activate and sign any new cards immediately when you receive them.
- If possible, get a credit card with your picture on it.
Protecting Your Information
- Never write your PIN number on your cards.
- Never give credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
- If your credit card statement does not arrive as expected, contact the issuing company to make sure that someone else did not change your address so that they receive the statements.
- When writing a check to pay your credit card bill, do not put the full credit card account number on the memo line. Just use the last four digits.
- Don’t show your ID. Doing so gives other people access to your personal information.
Properly Disposing of Old Credit Cards
- Either run your card through a shredder, or cut the card into four or more pieces. Make sure you cut through your signature and the magnetic strip on the back.
- Throw the pieces away in separate trash bags.
Preventing Unauthorized Use of Your Credit Card
- Always total the receipt and draw lines through unused spaces.
- Never sign a blank charge slip.
- Be sure to take your copy of the receipt with you.
- Compare your receipts to your account statement.
- Use a card that has a relatively low limit for routine spending. If the limit on the card is $300, for example, identity thieves can only spend up to $300 after stealing your card information.
- Use one card for online purchases. While you should always check your credit card statements for accuracy, this allows you to pay special attention to the statement for that card.
In Case of Problems
- If your credit card is lost, contact the issuing company immediately.
- If you believe your card was stolen, contact the police and issuing company immediately.
- If your wallet or purse is stolen, contact all your credit card issuers to report the theft.
Most credit card companies have a toll-free number for reporting stolen or missing cards and many provide 24-hour service. By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further liability for unauthorized charges, and your maximum liability under federal law is $50.
For more information on card safety, read Debit Card Security.