When Ben Franklin famously wrote, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he wasn't thinking about cybercrime. Yet, in today's world of phishing, shoulder-surfing, and spyware, his advice is more relevant than ever.

Unfortunately, some people will take advantage of any opportunity to rip you off. Just as you take precautions when handling cash, you should be vigilant when using credit or debit cards, whether in person or online.

Tips for Protecting Your Account Information and Avoiding Payment Card Scams

Prevent Online Intrusions

Use updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Only download information from trusted sites, and don't click on pop-up windows or suspicious links in emails. These can be tricks to install spyware, which can record your keystrokes to steal account or other confidential information.

Use Secure Websites

When purchasing items online, look for safety symbols like the padlock icon in the browser's status bar, an "s" after "http" in the URL, or the words "Secure Sockets Layer" (SSL). These are signs that the merchant is using a secure page for transmitting personal information.

Protect Personal Information

Never provide sensitive information, such as credit card or bank account numbers, passwords, Social Security number, driver's license, or address/phone, by mail, phone, or email unless you initiated the communication. Report requests for personal information to your card issuer by calling the number on the back of your card.

Be Wary of "Free Trial" Offers

Take time to read and understand all terms and conditions. Pay attention to any pre-checked boxes in online offers before submitting an order. Failing to uncheck the boxes may bind you to terms and conditions you don't want.

Track Account Activity

Regularly review credit card and bank statements and report any suspicious or unauthorized charges to the financial institution or card issuer. Ask whether your credit or debit card offers "zero liability," which means you won't be responsible for unauthorized or fraudulent purchases.

Transaction Alerts

Sign up for email or text message transaction alerts from your bank to keep track of purchases. These alerts are triggered when the transaction meets certain criteria you select, for example, purchases over a certain dollar amount. Banks generally will contact you if they spot unusual activity, such as multiple large purchases made within a short time frame or from different geographic areas.

Additional Quick Tips:

  • Create strong, random passwords and change them regularly.
  • Shield keypads from the eyes of "shoulder surfers" at stores and ATMs.
  • Review receipts for accuracy before signing and retain them for your records.

Resources for Learning More

There are many great resources where you can learn how to protect your personal and account information and prevent fraud, including:

  • The National Cyber Security Alliance's StaySafeOnline.org offers tips for safe Internet use.
  • The Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft, Privacy and Security page provides extensive information about identity theft, privacy, and information security.
  • Visa Inc.'s VisaSecuritySense contains tips on preventing fraud online, in stores, and at ATMs, and spotting deceptive marketing practices.

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