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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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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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