<p> Credit cards provide a convenient way to pay for things every day, whether you&#39;re shopping in a store or online.</p> <p> But there&#39;s a risk associated with each transaction. From the moment your card is <a href="">swiped at a customer terminal</a> or its number is entered into a website, your data can be stolen.</p> <p> Here&#39;s a look at various kinds of credit-card transactions, and how you can mitigate the risks to your personal data without having to devote your entire life to security.</p>

Signing up for a card

<p> Signing up for a card is when your interactions with your creditors begin &mdash; and when you begin to give away your personal information.</p> <p> One of the safest things you can do at this step involves your <a href="">email addresses</a>.</p> <p> A practice known as segmenting can help keep your personal data safe. Tim Rohrbaugh, vice president of information security at Intersections Inc., an identity-risk-management service in Chantilly, Va., explains.</p> <p> &quot;You have one email for your trusted sites, like your financial institutions,&quot; Rohrbaugh said, &quot;and a completely different one for your less trusted sites.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> That way, not all of your personal data can be breached at once.</p> <p> Then you&#39;ve got to deal with the issue of <a href="">social-media websites</a>.</p> <p> &quot;Social networking sites are great,&quot; Rohrbaugh said, &quot;but you have to be careful about what identity elements you post.&quot;</p> <p> In other words, don&#39;t put your mother&#39;s maiden name, the street you grew up on or your favorite pet&#39;s name on your Facebook page.</p> <p> Such information could be used to get through the &quot;forgot password or user name?&quot; features on many websites.</p> <p> [<a href="">11 Facebook Privacy Steps to Take Now</a>]</p>

To swipe or not to swipe

<p> When it comes to the actual card swiping, keep a keen eye out for <a href="">card readers that have been tampered with</a>, and keep an eye on the cashier or waiter to make sure he doesn&#39;t run the card through a second reader. Both are telltale signs that identity theft is afoot.</p> <p> Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the Money Crashers Personal Finance blog in Chicago, offers some tips.</p> <p> &quot;When investigating the card reader, take a good look at the front of the card slot. If it looks burned or melted, stay away,&quot; Schrage said. &quot;Also, if the slot appears to protrude in an irregular fashion, this is another red flag.</p> <p> &quot;If the colors of the card slot are different than the colors of the machine itself, this is another sign that the machine may have been &#39;cloned.&#39; Furthermore, if you notice <a href="">additional cameras</a> installed by your preferred ATM location, contact the bank before making any withdrawals. These cameras may have been installed by criminals to view your PIN number.&quot;</p> <p> When it comes to buying online, be sure to give your information only to trusted retailers who have some kind of transaction guarantee that will protect you in case something goes wrong.</p> <p> [<a href="">How Cybercriminals Empty Your Online Bank Account</a>]</p>

Credit vs. debit?

<p> Which is safer to use &mdash; a credit card or a debit card? From a basic security standpoint, it doesn&#39;t matter &mdash; you need to report a stolen money card immediately.</p> <p> But because credit card and <a href="">debit cards</a> are covered by different laws in the United States, your liability may end up being much greater with a debit card.</p> <p> The most you can lose with a stolen credit card is $50, and if you report the card stolen before its unauthorized use, you are not liable for any losses.</p> <p> Furthermore, if only the credit-card number is misused, but not the physical card itself (for example, in the case of an online retailer&#39;s <a href="">data breach</a>), you are not liable for anything.</p> <p> With debit cards (and with ATM cards, which are covered by the same law), your potential liability is much greater. In fact, you could lose all your money if you&#39;re not careful.</p> <p> First, the good news: If you report a debit or ATM card stolen before it&#39;s misused, you&#39;re on the hook for nothing.</p> <p> If you report the theft of a debit or ATM card within two business days, your total liability is $50.</p> <p> After two days, however, your liability jumps to $500.</p> <p> If you wait more than two months to report the theft &mdash; technically, 60 days after the bank statement detailing unauthorized use is mailed to you &mdash; you&#39;re liable for your entire bank balance, plus any overdraft protection you may have.</p> <p> With regard to online use of a debit card, you have a little more leeway. You are liable only for losses that take place 60 days after your bank statement is mailed.</p> <p> From a pragmatic point of view, the practice of segmenting can be applied. By using one card only for online purchases, another only for dining out, and so on, you&#39;ll find that it&#39;s easier to track your purchases. If you use cards with low spending limits, you&#39;ll also lessen your risk of catastrophic charges.</p> <p> [<a href="">How to Protect Yourself from Data Breaches</a>]</p>

Mobile payments

<p> Swipeless payment options on mobile phones, which use chips built into the phone instead of a physical card, are a boon in the eyes of some security experts. Since you need the phone with you to buy something, many potential breaches can be prevented.</p> <p> That said, you probably shouldn&rsquo;t give such systems a try until they&#39;ve had a shake-out period, at least in the United States.</p> <p> Several different <a href="">mobile payment systems</a> are in use or soon will be, but none has yet been a success with consumers.</p> <p> [<a href="">Top Mobile Banking Security Tips</a>]</p>

Credit-card companies and potential breaches

<p> Keeping an eye on your transactions is critical if you want to spot a breach. Many companies have been stepping up their monitoring of card activity and might catch a mistake, but the onus is on you if you want to get the protections that the law provides.</p> <p> Don&rsquo;t be shy about picking up the phone to report an anomaly or to ask questions about a transaction.</p> <p> One reason to call your credit-card company, even if you don&rsquo;t suspect a breach, is to opt out of its data-sharing programs.</p> <p> The card issuer may be sharing quite a bit of your personal data with other companies, and anytime your data is being stored on any server, it&#39;s <a href="">at risk of a breach</a>. Opt out now.</p> <p> If you&#39;ve taken all these steps, you can feel better about using your card. While nothing in this world is risk-free, you&#39;ll have made yourself a less attractive target for <a href="">identity theft</a>.</p> <p> [<a href="">10 Computer Threats You Didn&#39;t Know About</a>]</p>

5 Steps to Better Credit-Card Security