12 Ways to Protect Your Payment Information

When you are shopping, the last thing you want to worry about is someone hacking your payment information.  Whether you are buying clothes, shoes or laptops for the beginning of school in the fall, braving the crowds at the local mall at Christmas, or shopping online on Black Friday, you need to practice some common sense rules.

Here are twelve ways you can protect your payment information!

Protecting Your Payment Information in a Store

Even with the prominence of online shopping, retail environments are still part of daily life and as such, you need to protect your payment information at all times.  Mobile payments, ATMs, and unattended payments all pose risks if the necessary countermeasures are not taken.

1. Don’t use a public non-branded ATM at the mall.

You decide to grab an overpriced latte at the bistro and so you head to the public ATM in the mall so you will have some cash after your purchase. But don’t use that public ATM! Entering a PIN number in a public place makes it easier for criminals to identify your PIN number and then try to steal your purse or wallet. It just makes more sense to withdraw the cash you need from your local bank’s ATM without potential thieves looking over your shoulder.

2. Be alert to suspicious activity.

Report any suspicious behavior immediately. If you see other shoppers behaving suspiciously, contact a store manager or staff member immediately. I am sure any store manager would appreciate you trying to protect his or her interests as well as yours.

3. Watch the paper trail.

So yes, we have pretty much evolved from the old bulky and manual credit card “machine” where the associate inserted your card, then overlaid it with a receipt with tons of carbon paper to make copies. Then the associate slid the lever across the card magically imprinting all of the important credit card information on multiple copies. THAT’s where the word “swipe” came into being! And sometimes those copies ended up in the trash for an alert thief or store associate to pilfer.

But today, you STILL need to watch where your receipts go. Besides your copy, the copy you just signed needs to be locked up securely. Make sure that happens before you leave so that the receipt and any numbers that might be printed on it are not picked up by someone else.

4. Be careful how you carry your cards AND cash.

The next idea sounds very common sense to me. Carry your debit cards in a wallet or purse. Don’t set your wallet or purse down at the register to make it easy for a thief to grab. If cards are kept in a purse, have a strap long enough to fit over your head. Thieves will look for a purse and strap on the same side of your body which is easier to pull away from your shoulder. If you are carrying a wallet, put the wallet in a different pocket than the one on the left side of the jeans. Because that is where they are normally carried.

If you’re shopping in a high traffic area like a mall, carry a smaller purse because it’s harder to steal or sneak into. Carry only the one or two credit and debit cards you think you will be using that day and leave the other cards at home.

5. Protect the card number.

Remember that thieves can take pictures of your credit card with a cell phone, so keep the numbers on the card covered as much as possible. Put the card away as soon as you are done using it.

6. Buy a shredder.

While you are at the mall, pick up a small home office shredder. You should use one to shred ANY bank statements or credit card bills with your account number on them if you do not keep them. In this day and age, it will prevent dumpster divers from accessing your credit card information. It would not hurt to put the shredded pieces in different garbage bags to make their crime next to impossible! If you are not the shredding type, buy some inexpensive boxes from the Home Depot and store your financial papers there. Some local governments have shredders available at local recycling centers for you to use. And some banks and credit unions sponsor regularly-scheduled “Shredding Days” to help you declutter.

7. Be careful about supposed calls from a bank or card company.

When you are at home, only give credit card or other personal information to calls that you make. Use the customer service number printed on the back of your credit card. This is especially critical if you get a phone call that goes to your voicemail or you have received in an email or a text message. Again, make sure the number you call is a trusted number off your card or card statement.

Protecting Your Payment Information at a Gas Station or ATM

8. Be alert at the gas pump.

On your way home from the mall, if you stop and get gas be sure to remember this:

Criminal thieves can place what is known as a credit card skimming device on the gas pump where your card goes (this goes for bank ATMs as well). They come back later and retrieve the skimmer along with your credit card information. One way to check is to give a tug on the credit card reader. The fake skimmers merely slide onto the reader and a good tug will ensure there is not one present. Sometimes thieves place small cameras above the card reader. So keep your card information covered as much as possible when inserting and removing your card.

Protecting Your Payment Information Online

9. Beware of suspicious emails.

Protecting your online payment information is essential.  Thieves are very adept at making a fake email look just like the one you might get from your credit card company or bank. Do not click on any links displayed in the email as these can go to phishing sites that look legitimate but are there to steal your personal information. If in doubt, call the financial institution or business directly. Be sure to report any suspicious emails to them as well so they can alert other consumers as to changing trends in fraud activity. If you do contact a business on their website make sure the site has “https:” before its URL to show it is secure.

10. Protect your passwords and change them periodically.

When surfing the internet, change your online passwords often and do not use the same password on different websites. If one website is compromised, that could cause a ripple effect if it involves multiple uses of the same password.

11. Install antivirus and malware software on your computer.

It is just common sense to install antivirus and malware software. Some software is free but buying it is insurance against having your personal information stolen or compromised. You should also make sure you have a firewall installed to protect against criminals hacking into your computer. Routers and modems have known, generic admin passwords to access them so the first thing you should do is to change that admin password.

12. Know your rights when it comes to card fraud.

If your credit or debit card has been compromised, report it to the bank or financial institution IMMEDIATELY.

Generally speaking, your liability for credit card fraud is limited to $50; however, most credit card issuers offer zero-liability fraud protection. Also while the card company is investigating the incident, you are not held responsible for the charges, although you will need to pay your bill on time.

In the case of a debit card, you have two days after you notice the fraudulent activity to notify your bank for your liability to be $50. If you wait longer, your liability could be as high as $500; if longer than 60 days, your liability could be unlimited. Banks issuing debit cards generally make you wait to get the disputed amount back into your account until they finish investigating. So using a credit card definitely has its advantages.

Conclusion

Debit and credit cards are here to stay so you need to be proactive in preventing fraud. Check your statements each month for any unauthorized charges. Notify the issuer of any suspicious activity on your account.

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