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8 Credit Card Security Tips You Should Not Miss

8 Credit Card Security Tips You Should Not Miss

Recently, I bought a jacket at Ralph Lauren in New York City (an admittedly extravagant gift to myself for finally finishing my first book). At checkout, the clerk asked me to fill out a contact form. “No thanks,” I said. “I don’t like to give out my email address.”

“We won’t spam you,” he said. “It’s just to notify you when new items become available.”

After I briefly explained how spam works, and that notifying me of the availability of new items not only constitutes spam, but pretty much defines it, the clerk smiled politely and said “no problem.” As he went into the back to run my card, I noticed a second clerk standing nearby. He’d overheard our little back-and-forth and was smiling wryly to himself. Finally, he couldn’t hold it anymore. “You know they can get to you through your credit card anyway, right?”

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This gave me pause. I did know that, didn’t I? I mean, if a business wants to spam me, they can easily figure out my contact info from a purchase I’ve made. And that’s when a second, more insidious thought struck: If it’s that easy to spam someone after they use their credit card, how easy would it be to steal their identity?

When it comes to credit cards, there’s a whole universe of information out there, and much of it consists of black holes. That is to say, most of us simply don’t know what we realistically should or should not be concerned about. Sure, none of us want our identities stolen, our accounts hacked, our emails spammed—but what exactly are the risks and what can we do to mitigate them?

Following are 8 essential security measures we should all be taking with respect to credit cards. These tips will help us avoid spammers and identity thieves alike.

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1. Treat your cards like cash.

Would you hand a bartender a pile of cash and say “I’d like to open a tab?” So why do that with a credit card? We tend to treat cards differently than cash because they’re plastic. And hey, if someone snags your card, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, it’s called identity theft, and it ain’t a walk in the park. To avoid this, start thinking of and treating your credit cards like cash. Don’t leave them lying around or in the hands of strangers. Yes, this makes life slightly more annoying, but just think of how annoying it would be if someone snatched your card and copied or cloned it. Remember, a credit card is like a pile of cash. Treat it as such.

2. Only buy from trusted websites.

Online shopping is all the rave these days, and often times we enter our credit card information without giving it a second thought. That’s basically an identity thief’s wet dream. To keep the wolves at bay, make sure you check for security signs from whatever site you’re shopping from. These include a URL that begins with ‘https’ instead of the standard ‘http.’ That ‘s’ stands for ‘secure,’ which means the site uses encryption code when transmitting data online. Also check the page for a lock symbol or security firm icon from a trusted firm like Verisign or McAfee. Those symbols indicate a secure site.

3. Be careful when you travel.

The universal language isn’t English anymore—it’s code. That means that a hacker can snag your personal information from anywhere in the world. So be sure to be extra cautious when you travel. Only use your card at bank ATMs and trusted retailers. Let your bank know where you’re traveling and what the dates are so they can notify you if there are any suspicious purchases. And always update your antivirus protection if you’re bringing a laptop with you.

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4. Avoid public computers and WiFi.

People love to go online shopping whenever the mood strikes. Sometimes this means shopping on a public computer or open WiFi network. This is extremely dangerous as these platforms are especially vulnerable. So here’s a neat little trick for you: Feel free to browse and comparison shop online when you’re on an open WiFi network, but don’t purchase anything. Wait until you’re on a secure server (your home computer) before making a purchase. This has the doubly-positive effect of helping to curb your impulse-buying habits! As for public computers, never enter credit card information on them. Hackers often install malware onto public computers specifically targeting online shoppers. Plus the computer’s cache can store your personal information, making it easier for someone to steal it.

5. Never save your credit card number.

I know, I know, that whole ‘1-click’ thing makes life super easy. But just think of how easy you’re making the life of a hacker or spam-artist by storing your credit card info on a retailer’s server. Remember that massive customer breach of Target not long ago? Sure, identity thieves can strike anywhere. But storing your information with a retailer is like standing in the middle of a war zone with a giant bullseye painted on your back. Better to take the time to input your card info for each and every purchase (this also helps curb impulse-buying, by the way).

6. Keep your PIN number safe.

This one is obvious, but bears repeating anyway. You should never ever EVER give out your PIN to anyone, ever. Not your parents, not your friends, not your priest or rabbi. Not even if God herself came down from heaven and demanded you hand it over. Sorry God, no exceptions here. The ‘P’ in PIN stands for personal. Make sure to keep it that way.

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7. Be wary at the ATM.

Thieves love to hang out at ATM terminals with devices that can snatch your card info – sometimes electronically. They use counterfeit cards with magnetic strips to clone your information and make fraudulent purchases. So be wary whenever you use ATMs. Always shield your PIN number from view, never accept help from anyone, and if a sketchy dude or dudette is hanging around the ATM machine, it might be best to move on to the next one.

8. Watch out for phishing scams.

A phishing scam is any scam that lures a potential victim into giving away personal information which can then be used to steal their identity. A popular example is the follow-up email from a retailer you recently made a purchase with. If you receive an email claiming there was a problem with your order, and you need to resubmit your credit card info or input the last 4 digits of your Social Security number, a red flag should go up. Any legitimate retailer that needs additional information to complete your order will ask you to return to the site and submit information on an encrypted page (and this information will never be your Social Security number). When in doubt, call the customer service number to speak directly with a representative.

While the whole idea of identity theft may seem scary and invasive, the fact remains that we live in a brave new world when it comes to personal information. More and more of our information is being stored in more and more places around the world, which makes it that much easier for thieves and spammers to acquire it. But don’t be discouraged, and don’t throw in the towel. While you can never completely eliminate the possibility that your information will be stolen, you can reduce the likelihood of such an event occurring. All it takes is a little awareness and a willingness to take the necessary precautions.

Featured photo credit: _Dinkel_ via Flickr via flickr.com

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8 Credit Card Security Tips You Should Not Miss

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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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