15 Steps for Protecting Your Credit Card Information During Retail Purchases

How to Protect Yourself When Using Your Credit Card for Retail Purchases
Copyright (c) 2008 Kenneth M. Smith

For years, most of the focus and buzz has been around the threats posed by the Internet and online transactions. But a substantial amount of security breaches have had nothing to do with the Internet. There are vulnerabilities in the "card-present" transaction process just as there are in the online world. Every time you take your card out of your wallet there is some risk involved.

In a previous article, "Checklist For Protecting Your Credit Card Information Online", I provided some tips on protecting yourself when using your credit card for online transactions. As promised, here are some tips for protecting yourself from payment card fraud and identity theft when using your card for purchases at retail establishments.

1. Always get a receipt - Although merchants are no longer required to provide you with a receipt by default for purchases of $25 and under, you should still request one. This is your only record and proof of the amount of the original transaction and what you purchased.

2. Check that the receipt shows only the last four digits of your card number and that the expiration date is not printed.
If it is, use a marker or pen to cross out this information and ask to speak with the manager. Remind them that this is against payment card rules and, depending on the state you are in, may even be against the law.

3. Fill out your duplicate receipt.
This is typically for establishments like restaurants. Fill out your copy with the amount you gave for a tip and add up the total again. This allows you to confirm your math and also allows you to keep track of what the actual transaction total was. There have been a number of scams involving the fraudulent modification of the tip and total amounts on the restaurant copy of the receipt.

4. Use your credit card instead of your debit card.
Most credit cards provide some form of protection in case fraud were to occur. For example, you are usually not liable for any fraudulent purchases if you notify the card company quickly and complete an affidavit. But you don't normally get these protections and liability limits if you use one of the many types of debit cards available that can also be used as if they were a credit card. They are not truly a credit card and they do not have the same benefits.

5. Set purchase limits. Set a single purchase limit or daily purchase limit on the cards you normally carry with you.

6. Set card notification alerts.
Setup notification alerts with your card provider so that you will receive some sort of notification when a transaction exceeds a certain amount.

7. When your card is out - keep your wallet in hand.
After you have given a clerk your credit card, keep your wallet out in your hand. This will help prevent you from accidentally leaving without your card.

8. Watch what the cashier does with your card.
Your card should remain within your sight as much as possible. Watch for anything suspicious, like a cashier swiping your card with a small hand-held "skimmer" device or clicking a picture of it with their cell-phone camera.

9. Avoid small establishments that take your card out of sight.
Small gas stations and many restaurants still fall into this category and are a few of the last types of retailers that take your card from you and out of your sight. Table checkout solutions are gaining in popularity to address this problem in restaurants. And most gas stations have pumps that let you swipe your card, or they let a full service attendant do so within your view.

10. Write 'ASK FOR I.D.' on the back of your card.
Use large letters and a permanent marker, write this above or below your signature on the back of your card. You will find that many clerks will still not ask for your ID, but it only takes a few seconds to write this on your card and could stop a fraudulent purchase.

11. Sign your card.
Some think that not signing the back of the card forces the cashier to ask for an ID, making the transaction somehow more secure. This couldn't be further from the truth. Actually this makes it more risky. According to card company rules, your card is not valid until it's signed and merchants are not supposed to accept an unsigned card. So, sign your card now.

12. Do not allow the merchant to write down any information from your card.
This includes situations in which the merchants electronic payment system isn't working properly. Don't take their offer to write down your card information to settle the transaction later. If they don't have a way for accepting your card payment and you don't have the cash, they don't get the sale. Be especially prudent to be sure that no one writes down the CVV security code found on the back of the card.

13. Do not let anyone make a photo copy of the back of your card.
The back of your card contains your CVV code as well as your signature. The practice of making a photocopy of your credit card, especially for large amounts, is common at merchants such as automobile dealerships. It's a way for them to prove that the card was 'present'. If they do make a copy of the front of your card, ask them about their security procedures and how they are going to protect that photocopy. Regardless, never allow anyone to make a copy of the back of the card.

14. Don't put those miniature credit cards on your key-chain. I honestly don't know what anyone was thinking when they came out with these. Most people do not protect their keys as they do their wallet. Even if you don't put one of these little cards on your key-chain, they are easier to misplace and just increase the chances of your card information getting in the wrong hands. I don't recommend using them at all.

15. Never write down the CVV security code from your card. If you are ever asked to write this number down, just say no. For paper order forms, it's O.K. for the merchant to ask for your name, card number, and expiration date. It's not O.K. for them to ask you to write down the CVV code, anywhere. This number is never to be stored by a merchant, and having it written down on a form is storing it.

If you have found this check-list helpful, please let me know. You may forward a link to this post to anyone on any planet. You may reproduce this article as long as the author is credited and a link to this blog (http://mrsm1th.blogspot.com) is provided. If you would like to use this article for commercial purposes, please contact me by leaving a comment below.

Contents Copyright (c) 2008 Kenneth M. Smith