Did you know there is a new victim of identity/credit card theft every two seconds in the world today? In the United States alone, the cost have identify theft during 2014 was $16 billion. It is projected that one in every five people in the U.S. will suffer from some form of identity or credit card theft in 2015. Much of this has occurred with huge data breaches, such as the infamous one with Target, but individuals have also been targeted through a variety of nefarious practices on the part of criminals.

While card companies and retailers argue over the steps to be taken to increase security, consumers will simply have to be more vigilant on their own to protect their identities and the credit and debit card information. Here are some basic things that you can do to help ensure that your personal and financial information does not end up in the hands of crooks.

Tips for Providing Personal and Financial Information Online

Here are some simple but very important measures you can take as you engage in online shopping and interaction with retailers and others to whom you must provide critical information.

1. Use a Credit Card

Use a credit, not a debit card when shopping online. Why? Because you have better fraud protection, and your liability is most often limited to $50. In the case of a debit card breach, you have to discover it quickly and report it if you intend to be relieved of the charges to your account, and it can take days, if not weeks, to get that money returned to your account. Compare cards like Credit One Bank credit cards online to find the best card that will offer the best protection.

A number of credit card companies are also offering the option to use a one-time credit card that will generate a random number that will be linked to your real credit card account number. Because it can only be used that single time, hackers who “steal” that number will not be able to use it.

2. Always Check the URL

When you shop online and get to the checkout page — the one at which you will have to enter your credit card information, check the URL for that page. Increasingly, there is another layer of security being added and the address that used to begin with http:// will now begin with https://. The “s” means that an additional layer of security has been added, and while not foolproof, it is better.

3. Don’t Shop on Public Computers

Libraries, grocery stores, bookstores, etc. now have computers that customers can use in their facilities. It is very easy for hackers to put a keystroke logger on these computers that record your keystrokes as you enter personal and credit card information, as well as passwords. And if you take your personal computer to a place where there is public Wi-Fi, never engage in purchasing activities while on that system. These Wi-Fi systems are a playground for hackers!

4. Protect Your Social Security Number

Don’t ever give out your social security number while online. In fact, if the site is asking for more than normal information, be very suspicious. Now, some Chinese companies are verifying identity with card companies by asking for birthdates, along with the credit card number and security code. Think about this for a minute. If you complete a transaction through a Chinese payment processor, that processor has your name, your address, you credit card information, and your birthday. This is huge amount of information that can then be used to take over your identity.

5. Keep Anti-Virus Software Current

When a subscription runs out, renew it! And always install updates from your browser, your server, and any other software you have installed. Hackers are just waiting for you to get lazy about updates.

6. Look for a Seal

When you access a site and are considering any purchases, look for a seal, like MacAfee, BBB, Verisign, etc. These confirm that the site has been deemed to be legitimate and secure.

7. Get a Tough Password

Mix up letters, numbers, and symbols, and never have the same password for more than one site on which your personal and/or facial information is used. If you have a lot of passwords, make a list and keep in a locked box or safe in your home.

8. Watch out for Phishing

If you get an email asking to access a site, either a retailer you have used or your bank/credit card company, do not do so. Instead, trash that email and access the site from your browser. This practice is known as phishing, and it is hackers attempting to get your banking/card information.

9. Protect Card Information

Never give card information via email or phone. Reputable companies and banks will not ask for it that way. This is also a common phishing practice.

10. Try a Secure Payment Method

Consider a secure online banking/payment account such as PayPal. There is no account number for you to enter and you get an immediate email telling you when you have made any type of transaction.

11. Trust Your Gut

If a site seems at all suspicious, out of date, or badly designed, do not use it to purchase anything. Instead, Google the company name and see what information you can find.

Offline Safety

Here are some tips on how to protect your credit card from theft offline. Someone who gains access to everything in your wallet can actually become you, and can engage in a variety of criminal activity, posing as you. This can include using your cards but also becoming you to obtain employment, to get loans in your name, etc.

1. Write “See Picture ID”

Instead of signing the signature strip on the back of your card, write “see picture ID or “SID” to alert the sales clerk to check your ID before completing a transaction using your credit or debit card.

2. Document Your Cards

Take a picture of everything in your wallet, front and back. If it is stolen or lost, you can notify everyone immediately.

3. Pay Attention

Be aware of your surroundings, such as the people behind you and next to you as you are using your cards. After you swipe it, put it away or hold it in your hand with the face down.

4. Shred Documents

Do not throw credit card statements in your trash, unless you have shredded them or cut the account numbers off.

5. Plan Ahead When You Travel

When you travel, let your card companies know when and when you will be traveling. So, if you are in London and someone is trying to use your card in Ohio, it will be caught. Plus, you will not face denials because your activity seems suspicious.

What Are Card Companies Doing to Protect You?

In Europe, card companies have been using an imbedded chip, as opposed to a magnetic strip for a couple of decades. Card companies in the U.S. have been slow to adopt this, because it is expensive and it also requires retailers to purchase new machines. Each card imbedded with a chip costs an additional $5 to $10, and each new machine costs a retailer about $1000. Even with this new technology, protection is certainly not at 100 percent.

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IT criminals are savvy and devious. As quickly as measures are taken to increase security, they are able to breach it. The best defense, therefore, comes from the individual cardholder and his/her constant vigilance. Use these tips to protect yourself.