Money Monday: Protecting Your Plastic During the Holidays

Ten ways to protect your credit cards when shopping online or offline this holiday season.

Posted: 11/26/2012 08:00 AM EST

It’s the holiday season — time for spreading cheer, giving gifts and sharing good times with friends, family and co-workers. Unfortunately, it’s also time for scrooges to surface and try to take their share of the holiday spending pie. Credit card transactions are a prime target for these crooks, who utilize various means of getting their hands on your information and then use your good name, credit and reputation for their own gains.

The good news is that there are some very simple steps that you can take to make sure your finances don’t fall prey to the credit card scrooges this holiday season. The American Financial Services Association Education Foundation (AFSAEF) of Washington, D.C., offers these 10 tips for consumers who want to protect their credit cards during this hectic time of the year:

1. Limit the number of cards you carry on shopping trips: bring only those you'll actually use.

2. Keep an eye on your card: make sure you get it back promptly after each use.

3. Conceal your card while waiting to pay for purchases: someone in line behind you might try to memorize or copy your account number.

4. Put your card in a secure place: when the cashier returns it to you, don't absent-mindedly stick your card in a coat pocket or someplace else where it can easily fall out.

5. Treat receipts carefully: check them to see if your account number is hidden (with Xs) except for the last four digits. If the full number is visible on a receipt, don't leave it lying around. When your billing statements arrive, compare them with holiday receipts to help spot any unauthorized charges.

6. Be especially selective when shopping online: shop with companies you know and stick to secure websites. Look for a locked padlock, an unbroken key or a lock icon (displayed at the bottom or on the status bar of the screen) to determine if a website uses security software.

7. Don't give out your account number unless you initiate the transaction: watch out for any phone, website or mail solicitations that ask you for this information.

8. Fill in blanks on receipts: when dining out, draw a line through any blank spaces on the receipt (i.e. tip/gratuity space if you leave a cash tip) and total the amounts before signing.

9. Don't lend your credit card to anyone: that includes friends, family members and co-workers.

10.  Sign your credit or debit card on the back: this should be done when a new or replacement card arrives in the mail.

If you do suspect credit card fraud the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says the first step is to immediately call the card issuer(s). Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies. By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges. In any event, your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card.

To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP. You can watch a video called How to File a Complaint at ftc.gov/video to learn more.  

AFSAEF's publications include "Managing Your Holiday Spending," a free pamphlet to help holiday shoppers avoid much of the stress and strain of seasonal expenses. Consumers may obtain a copy by visiting ASAEF's website or by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to AFSA Education Foundation, 919 18th Street, N.W., 3rd Floor, Dept. HS, Washington, D.C.,  20006.


This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. The accuracy and completeness of this information is not guaranteed and is subject to change. Since each individual’s financial situation is unique, you need to review your financial objectives to determine which approaches might work best for you.

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(Photo:  Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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