Safeguard Your Credit Cards

Years ago, most consumers paid in cash. But today, credit cards are a fiscal convenience and way of life for most people. However, like many modern conveniences, credit cards are open to abuse. In the wrong hands, your credit cards - or credit card numbers - are like an open invitation to rob you. With the card or information in hand, thieves can quickly charge thousands of dollars worth of merchandise or borrow large sums of cash.

Credit card fraud is a growing problem that affects all of us through higher finance charges and annual fees, not to mention the investigative costs to law enforcement agencies. A few preventive measures, however, can protect you from credit card thieves.

The most basic safety tip is to only carry the cards that you absolutely must have with you to transact business. In most cases, just one card is necessary. Other cards can be left at home in a secure location and carried as needed. This will limit your exposure in case your wallet or purse is stolen or lost.

Here are some other safety tips to keep in mind:

Don't give out your credit card number over the phone unless you initiated the call and you are absolutely certain about the company or person with whom you are doing business.

If your credit card includes a PIN number, memorize the number and don't keep it with your card.
Never leave your credit cards lying around in the open.
When checking out at store registers, shield your credit card from people around you in case someone is looking over your shoulder for an opportunity to copy your credit card number.
Destroy carbons and voided receipts immediately.
Make sure your transactions are accurate. Be on guard for dishonest merchants who might change your credit card slip after you sign it.
Always total your charge slip before signing the credit card receipt. Don't leave blank spaces for others to fill out.
Never sign a blank charge slip.
Maintain your credit card receipts in a secure location and then check them against your bill each month to make sure that you haven't been billed for purchases or transactions that you didn't make.
Immediately destroy any credit cards that you don't use.
Maintain a list of phone numbers to all of your credit card issuers in case you need to contact them about a theft or suspected fraud.
Shred credit cards offers you receive in the mail.
Obtain your credit report annually from the major credit bureaus and check for any fraudulent activity.