3 precautions to take at checkout

credit card being charged on a mobile purchase checkout device

Whether you’re waiting in line or about to click the order button, start taking these steps.

1. At the register: use your phone.

The Chip & PIN credit cards you’ve probably been using for a little while now may be an effective way to discourage counterfeiters. But sliding your card into that payment terminal slot (instead of swiping) doesn’t necessarily mean your transaction is safe. That’s because your transaction may not always be encrypted, even when using the Chip & PIN slot. Encrypted transactions use technology to disguise your personal information as it goes from your payment source to the merchant. Unencrypted payments may leave transactions more vulnerable to thieves and hackers than encrypted ones would.

One alternative is to use a standard, fully updated mobile payment method that’s tied to your specific smartphone. These types of smartphone applications may help ensure your payment information is encrypted and, as a result, more difficult for thieves to reach.

2. Online: use a credit card instead of a debit card.

Credit cards are convenient for online shopping. But they also come with special protections you wouldn’t get from a debit card, ACR/e-check or similar online payment method (credit cards also come with these same protections offline). With credit cards, you’re generally only liable for a maximum of $50 should fraudulent charges show up on your account.

Resolving fraudulent charges also tends to be easier with credit cards than it would be with debit cards or with payments linking directly to your checking account. That’s because charging with a credit card means you’re using a promise to pay (the credit card bill) rather than cash. If a thief were to get ahold of your debit card or checking account information, they could clean out your account, leaving a big mess and a lot more work for you to do to patch it up. But with credit cards, they tend to have systems in place to quickly determine whether a charge is fraudulent and simply remove that charge from next month’s bill.

3. Online or off: use secure, trusted storage.

Another precaution to consider when shopping online is to take advantage of the ability to store your credit card information with that particular retailer. Using stored credit card information (as long as you’re comfortable with the retailer, site’s security, terms of use and privacy policy) decreases the number of times you have to manually enter your payment information. That means you’re giving hackers fewer chances to try to intercept your information with keystroke tracking, spying software, or other tactics.

The offline version of this is to avoid taking out your credit card as much as you can. If you have secure mobile payment on your phone and it’s compatible at the register, take advantage of it. That’s because, with mobile payment, the sensitive card information (full credit card number, expiration date, PIN) is typically stored and encrypted in your phone rather than on plastic, where it may be seen by thieves.

And remember, if all else fails and you need to pay offline, you can always pay the old-fashioned way: with cash!

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