7 Ways to Protect Yourself as You Shop for the Holidays

Here are nine ways to protect yourself while shopping this holiday season.

The holiday season is an enormous economic event, so much so that the National Retail Federation estimates that holiday shopping represents as much as 30% of a retailer’s annual sales. But as a consumer, increased spending can leave you more vulnerable to theft and fraud.

However, there are steps you can take to guard against theft. Here are seven ways to protect yourself as you shop for the holidays.

1. Pay with a Credit Card

Stolen cash isn’t easily recovered, and a thief could use your debit card to empty your bank account. Credit cards offer better protection.

Even if your card is stolen, federal law dictates that you can’t be held liable for more than $50 in charges. That liability drops to $0 if you report the card’s loss before fraudulent charges occur or if it’s your card number, not your physical card, that was stolen. Many credit card issuers will automatically waive the $50 no matter the scenario.

2. Use a Virtual Card Number Online

Some credit card companies offer virtual card numbers, which can keep your information safe as you shop online. These temporary 16-digit numbers are linked to your account, but allow you to set predetermined spending limits and an expiration date. If a thief gets ahold of your virtual number, your exposure is limited and you won’t have to go through the hassle of canceling and replacing your card.

There are third-party virtual card providers out there if your credit card company doesn’t offer this service, but their quality may vary and they will require you to sign up for a separate service.

3. Protect Your Account Logins 

Your accounts are only as strong as your password. Use different passwords for every account; this way, if one of your passwords is compromised, your other accounts will still be safe. Many online retailers (including Amazon) now offer two-factor authentication, which gives you an additional layer of security when you login. 

4. Shop with One Account

It’s more difficult to track your spending when you use multiple credit cards or bank accounts. You should limit your holiday shopping to one account, which makes it easier for you to identify unauthorized charges.

5. Shop at Secure Websites

Be careful about the websites you visit. You should only make purchases at trustworthy retailers. Also, check for the secure padlock icon and an “https” at the beginning of the retailer’s web address, both of which indicate that the site is encrypted. This makes it more difficult for hackers to steal your information.

6. Monitor Your Accounts

You should be closely monitoring charges on your account all year long. While many financial institutions now offer account monitoring, their systems aren’t foolproof. Make sure to carefully read over your monthly statements to identify unauthorized charges.

7. Monitor Your Credit Report

Credit card numbers are replaceable, but if thieves get hold of really important information—like Social Security numbers, birthdates, and addresses—you could become a victim of identity theft. Check your credit report regularly to make sure no one is opening fraudulent accounts in your name. You can see your credit report for free at Credit.com.

Image: Eva-Katalin

The post 7 Ways to Protect Yourself as You Shop for the Holidays appeared first on Credit.com.

4 Credit Cards With Great Security Features

These credit cards help protect you from identity theft and fraud.

[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners here — Discover it, Blue Cash Everyday from American Express and Citi ThankYou Preferred. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Thieves lurk in the physical and virtual world, looking for ways to access your credit card number or commit identity theft. Whether you shop online or in brick-and-mortar stores, it’s wise to take steps to protect yourself against fraud.

Credit card companies have many tools to help combat credit card fraud, and sometimes offer additional security features to protect against identity theft.

Here are four credit cards with great security features.

1. Discover it

Rewards: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in quarterly rotating categories like gas stations or restaurants, 1% cash back on everything else

Signup Bonus: Discover will match the cash back you earn in the first year.

Annual Fee: None

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0%  intro rate for 14 months, then variable 11.74% to 23.74%

Why We Picked It: Discover’s Freeze it feature gives you peace of mind if you’ve lost track of your card.

Security Features: With Freeze it, cardholders can freeze their card within seconds using Discover’s website or mobile app. This way, if you can’t locate your card, you can freeze it and look around before reporting it lost or stolen. If your card is misplaced, Discover offers free overnight card replacement. Cardholders also won’t be held liable for any unauthorized purchases.

Drawbacks: To maximize cash back, you’ll have to do the work of activating and tracking rotating purchase categories.

2. Blue Cash Everyday from American Express

Rewards: 3% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at supermarkets, 2% cash back at gas stations and select department stores, 1% cash back on everything else

Signup Bonus: $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months of card membership

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro rate for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 24.99%

Why We Picked It: Cardholders can control available spending for authorized users.

Security Features: If you have multiple cards for authorized users on your account, you can set a spending limit for each card’s billing period. That way, your authorized user (or a conniving friend) can’t rack up a huge balance. American Express won’t hold you accountable for any unauthorized charges.

Drawbacks: If you don’t spend a lot at supermarkets or gas stations, you may want to look for another cash back card.

3. Citi ThankYou Preferred

Rewards: Two points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment, one point per dollar spent on everything else

Signup Bonus: 15,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro rate for 12 months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%

Why We Picked It: Citi has an impressive range of security features that help you fight fraud and identity theft. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

Security Features: If your credit card is lost or stolen, Citi will send you a new card for free and provide an emergency cash advance. To protect you online, Citi can issue temporary credit card numbers for secure online purchases. Finally, if you become the victim of identity theft, a Citi specialist will help you contact TransUnion to put a fraud alert on your credit reports and help you complete a police report. Cardholders aren’t held liable for any unauthorized purchase.

Drawbacks: If you use your credit card for “meat and potatoes” spending and rarely use it on a night out, this card won’t deliver as much value.

4. Bank Americard Credit Card

Rewards: None

Signup Bonus: None

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro rate for 15 months, then variable 12.74% to 22.74%

Why We Picked It: Online shopping is safer with Bank of America’s ShopSafe service.

Security Features: With ShopSafe, you can receive temporary credit card numbers to safely shop online. If abnormal spending patterns are detected, Bank of America will block the card’s use and contact you to discuss potential fraudulent activity. You’ll never be held accountable for unauthorized transactions.

Drawbacks: This is a very basic card without any rewards to speak of.

Choosing a Card With Strong Security Features

Federal law states that you can’t be held accountable for more than $50 in unauthorized purchases if your card is stolen. But cardholders concerned with security should look for card issuers that offer zero liability for unauthorized charges.

To further protect yourself, consider cards that go above and beyond in the realm of security and protect you in areas where you may be particularly vulnerable.

If you frequently shop online, you may want a card that offers temporary credit card numbers for limited time use, which stops digital thieves from gaining access to your real card number. If you tend to misplace things and you’re scared of losing your card, you may want a card that lets you easily freeze all activity.

Of course, if your only credit card requirement is security, you should pick a card with the most enhanced protections. But if you also want a card that rewards spending with points or cash back, you’ll want to consider your spending habits and how a card can reward your purchasing behavior.

What Is Required to Get a Card With Security Protections?

Any legitimate credit card should have some security features. Cards with strong security could be available for consumers with credit ranging from poor to excellent. No matter what card you choose, you should know your credit score ahead of time to gauge your chances of approval. Before you apply, you can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

At publishing time, the Discover it, Blue Cash Everyday from American Express and Citi ThankYou Preferred credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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How to Get a ‘Burner’ Credit Card

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A new online payment service, which launched earlier this week, hopes to curb online shopping fraud by doing away with the need to share your credit card number just to buy something.

Privacy.com is creating virtual debit cards for online transactions for anyone who signs up for the service. The free app, which Credit.com reported on last fall, is now available for Apple iOS and Google Chrome.

“Credit card breaches are growing at an alarming rate and real people are getting hurt,” said Bo Jiang, CEO and Founder of Privacy, in a press release. “We minimize your risk of fraud and identity theft by creating virtual burner cards.”

Here’s an overview of how the app works: Users download the software, register and link an online bank account. There is no pre-loading of funds required and the service can be used anywhere Visa cards are accepted. Once downloaded, a browser extension enables you to create burner card numbers when you go to check out on shopping websites. The funds are then withdrawn from the linked bank account.

The service uses two-factor authentication, an extra layer of security that requires not only a password and username but also something that only that user has on them, such as a physical token.

Prospective Privacy.com users can sign up on the company website. Keep in mind, you’ll have to enter personal information, including your name, address, date of birth and checking account information, to get and use the app. You can find more information about Privacy.com’s security protocols on the company website.

Remember, some banks also give cardholders the option to create virtual card numbers to increase security while shopping online, so you may want to look into these options, too, if you are interested in increased online card security.

And, if you think your credit card or personal information has been compromised, or even if you don’t, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is to regularly check your statements and your credit for signs of fraud. You can spot sudden, unexpected changes in your free credit report summary, which is updated every month on Credit.com. Here’s what to do if you find you are a victim of identity theft.

More on Identity Theft:

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3 Times It Doesn’t Matter If You Use a Chip Card

EMV chip cards made their debut in the U.S. last fall, and some retailers are still struggling to get the technology implemented in their stores.

The switch from magnetic-stripe cards has meant not just new cards, but new payment processes, as well, which some folks have found frustrating. While the transition hasn’t been easy for some businesses and consumers, it means greater protection against fraud for a wide range of transactions.

Unlike the old magnetic-stripe cards, EMV chip cards create a unique transaction code that cannot be used again. For example, if a hacker stole the chip information from one specific transaction, it wouldn’t be usable again.

“Issuers do not want their cards to be used at point of sale with a magnetic stripe anymore, as the stripe is highly susceptible to compromise, where chip-based transactions are not,” Seth Ruden, a senior fraud consultant with Florida-based ACI Worldwide, said in an email.

While EMV technology doesn’t prevent data breaches from occurring, it can make it much harder for criminals, except in circumstances where the chip’s encryption capabilities aren’t used. Here are three scenarios where using a chip card won’t make your transaction any safer.

1. Online & Over the Phone

Buying some new shoes online? Ordering flowers over the phone from the local florist for your aunt’s birthday? These “card-not-present transactions” mean your debit or credit card details, most often including not just your name and card number, but also the three-digit CVV code, must be shared in full. The EMV chip card’s encryption is completely bypassed in these cases, and a chip card is no more or less safe than a non-chip card.

2. At Retailers Still Using Swipe Machines

While businesses that accept credit and debit cards could face increased liability for fraudulent transactions conducted with stolen cards or data if they don’t have EMV readers in place, there’s no law mandating that they actually have them. So, if you’re purchasing something at a store that still requires you to swipe your card, any additional protections offered by the chip aren’t doing you or the merchant (or the card issuer) any good.

“Anything that is magnetic stripe based is holding back the security efforts, and exposing the bank, merchant and the cardholder to prolonged risk-exposure during this transition period,” Ruden said in an email.

3. When Your Card Is Carbon Copied (Old-School Style)

Remember the old manual credit card imprinters? The merchant lays your card in the little slot, places the carbon copy receipt on top then pushes the imprinter handle over it, making that satisfying “ka-chunk” sound?

Or how about when the delivery guy runs that same carbon copy receipt over your card and runs his pen across it?

If you’re getting a delivery, or if you’re at a merchant who is experiencing a power loss or other digital failure, your chip card isn’t going to make a bit of difference in protecting the transaction from possible fraud. There are now pieces of paper with your card details on it that can be lost or stolen.

One of the best things you can do to protect yourself from stolen credit card information is to regularly check your account statements for signs of fraud. You can also spot possible fraud through sudden, unexpected changes in your credit score. You can keep track of that by getting your free credit report summary, which is updated every month on Credit.com and includes two of your credit scores. As soon as you identity something suspicious, act quickly to minimize the damage.

More on Credit Cards:

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