It’s a thrill to gift a loved one exactly what they wanted for the holidays. But, if you aren’t careful with your personal information — including those credit cards — you might be gifting thieves just what they wanted, too.
Worldwide fraud losses on credit, debit and prepaid cards in 2014 topped $16 billion, according to the Nilson Report, a trade publication for the global credit-card and mobile-payment industry. Such fraud can occur in a number of ways, including:
- A thief going through the garbage to take information from billing statements.
- Hackers attacking the website of your bank or a store where you shop (online or even in person).
- Shop clerks or restaurant servers taking down your information while they have your card.
- Someone looking over your shoulder while you use your card.
And, when you’re rushing through the holiday season, getting last-minute gifts, running from place to place and feeling like you can barely catch your breath, it’s easy to let your guard down.
What can you do? Well, you can pay with cash, but carrying too much around can present a different kind of security risk. Checks aren’t nearly as convenient. And, neither one works online.
So, you’re most likely going to keep using your cards. That’s just fine, so as long as you keep these safety tips from the Federal Trade Commission and others in mind:
- You should be the only one using your card. Don’t lend it to anyone else, even your kids.
- Don’t give your card number to companies or people you don’t know and trust — either on the phone or online.
- Keep an eye on your card when you’re making a purchase. Don’t wander around the store (or let your mind wander) while the cashier is ringing up your stuff. When you’re dining out, try to watch the server if he needs to take your card away to run it.
- Don’t just toss your statements and receipts. It’s a good idea to shred them, even if they don’t list your full account number.
- Before you shred those statements and receipts, check them. You’d be surprised how many people never look to make sure their statements are accurate. Sometimes they miss fraudulent charges for months. When it comes to receipts, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total before you sign, and always review the charges.
- Consider where you carry your cards. Keeping them separate from your wallet or purse can help reduce your losses if your wallet or purse is stolen.
- Remember, if something looks or feels funny, be careful or walk away. Even at the gas station or other self-checkout station, “skimmers,” or devices that are installed over the credit-card reader, can steal and transmit your information immediately.
Don’t let the credit-card Grinch steal your holiday cheer (and your hard-earned money). Giving and receiving are both great this time of year, but nobody wants to be taken — so use your cards wisely!