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Michelle Fern Michelle Fern
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The risks of a cashless society

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Credit and debit cards are used pretty much all the time. We use them for everything from buying groceries, clothes, take-out food and gas to even paying household bills. Online shopping has also grown over the years, where people come home from work, grab a bite to eat, fire up the computer and shop away only to pull out the plastic and consummate the purchase.

But such usage carries risks. A few years ago my father received a call from his credit card company that someone was trying to use his credit card number online to purchase a $3,000 TV. They called him because it was not a normal spending habit, which threw up a red flag for his credit card company. He found out that an employee at a restaurant they frequented had stolen his credit card number, expiration date and security code from the back of the card. Score one for the wherewithal of the credit card issuer in alerting my father. However, many other cardholders are not so lucky.

Credit card theft has increased 31 percent over the last three years. That's according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, one in 10 Americans have fallen victim to credit card fraud. Worldwide, it's a $5.5 billion problem as reported by the D.O.J.

In today's technological world, you must protect yourself from credit card theft and fraud. Here are a few ways you can do this.

Credit vs. debit card

Put away the debit card; if possible, don't accept one from your bank. It's very easy for someone to use a debit card as a credit card and it comes right out of your bank account.

Credit cards can protect you better in the long run. If your card number is stolen, such cards are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, which limits your liability at $50. However, a debit card by law is capped at $500.

Carry only what you need

Don't carry cards you don't use. It's tempting to carry all 15 credit cards 'just in case,' but if you use credit cards, limit yourself to one or two and place them in a location you can see every time you open your wallet. It's also easier to cancel one or two cards rather than all 15.

Prevent unauthorized use

Keep all your credit card receipts and compare them to your account statement. Make sure you get your card back when you use it, as well as the receipt.

Beware of Phishing'

This type of fraud is popular on the Web and your mobile phone, where messages from seemingly legitimate sources ask to verify your personal information. Watch out for these suspicious emails, texts or phone calls, and never give out your personal information most legitimate institutions never do this. eBay and PayPal are two companies often targeted with bogus emails that are sent to consumers stating their credit card information has expired and to follow a link to update their profile and credit card information. A red flag signaling you these are not from the company is that the message does not identify you by name.

Use cash where possible

If you embrace the mantra of 'If I don't have the cash, I can't afford it,' it not only protects you from credit/debit card theft, but also keeps you on track with your budget.

What to do if your card is stolen

First, contact the issuing company immediately as well as the local police. Make sure you have your account number, the date you noticed your card was missing, and the date and amount of your last purchase. Second, it's always a good idea to follow up with the card issuer by sending a letter stating the same information. This will help prove that you reported the loss.

If you report your credit card stolen before it's been used, you are not liable for any purchases made after the report has been filed. If you report it after a purchase, you are liable for up to $50 for a credit card and up to $500 for a debit card.

No matter what, it's important to report your missing credit card as soon as possible.

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