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Protecting Your Credit Cards

We often trade security for the sake of convenience, and credit cards are a perfect example. Credit cards have become so commonplace that many people today use a single card that acts as an ATM card, a debit card for purchases, and a credit card. Unfortunately, all that convenience makes credit cards a high priority for identity theft. A clever thief can take your credit card information and go on quite a spending spree before the average Joe will catch on. That's why you should stay on top of your plastic.

One of the first steps to protecting your credit cards is to find out your card's policies on identity theft. If your credit card company doesn't offer protection in the event of identity theft, there's a clear solution: Close that account, destroy the card, and get a new credit card company. Today's larger and more reputable card companies offer a high degree of protection against identity theft, and there is really no reason to do business with a company that won't offer you some protection.

Online purchases have also become a target for identity thieves. To limit your exposure to possible hackers online, have a single card you only use online. This step also allows you to keep a closer eye on activity on the account: Be sure to carefully review the statement for that card each month, and if you see any suspicious purchases, act immediately.

Similarly, in the real world, don't carry all your cards at once. Keep the online card at home, and keep a single credit card and/or your debit card on your person. You can always rotate the cards you carry, but limiting the number of cards limits your exposure if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Don't sign the back of your credit card. In fact, in the space where you would normally sign your credit card, write in big bold capital letters the words SEE ID. It takes a little more time at the register, but any clerk inspecting the back of the card (which they're all supposed to do when you use it for a purchase) will ask to see your identification before allowing you to use the card for purchases.

NOTE

Don't leave the signature line blank. Most stores won't accept a card with a blank signature line; if the store accepts an unsigned card, the store (not the card company) is liable for any losses.

Finally, never throw away credit card receipts, and always take your carbons from purchases. Most card terminals today don't print full card numbers, but they do contain other information about the transaction that can aid savvy and unscrupulous individuals. Don't take a chance; just take the receipt, and before you toss it at home, run it through your cross-cut shredder. Don't have a cross-cut shredder? Get one. They're relatively cheap these days, and that little expenditure can buy you a lot of peace of mind.

Of course, there is another option: Use cash. Cash has the advantage of being nicely untraceable and completely private.

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