4 Easy Rules to Help Protect Your Money and Credit

Personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich shows you how to defend yourself against online thieves

Last year was the first time in history that we as a country used plastic more than cash as a way to pay for purchases. As we make this plastic revolution our way of life, keep in mind that debit cards and credit cards come with their own problems—and I don’t mean only debt. We all have "to-do" lists but to protect your money and your credit, you’ve got to add these rules to your "don’t" list!

Do NOT use a debit card EVER online.
Shopping online is great—I do it nearly every other day. But, if you shop online with your debit card, you make it much too easy to have your account information stolen and used to empty your cash account. Of course, this can happen with your credit card too, but you don’t actually lose any money—the item goes into dispute. But if your debit card is compromised, that’s cash money out of your personal piggy bank. You may have automated bills to pay, checks in the mail, or just need access to cash, all in one day. Debit cards carry some purchase protection, but take it from someone who has had a debit card break-in (moi), hours in the bank and days without cash are not fun. Avoid that hot mess by sticking to credit cards online. Though, if you have a problem with charging too much, you may want to consider using a secured card instead. Secured cards act like debit cards—you put money on it, draw from that balance and replenish as needed—but they tend to have low limits which mean lower losses of time and trouble if stolen.

DON’T make purchases or look at your accounts online through Wi-Fi outside your home.
Sitting in a café on your Macbook and decided to check your credit card balance online? Shut that down! It is ridiculously easy for surly types to walk through the open door of public Wi-Fi and into your computer, stealing all your information—passwords, credit card numbers, account information, etc. Always look at your bank accounts and shop from the safety of your locked and password protected Wi-Fi, either at home or another trusted, protected network.

DON’T check your credit card and debit card statements only once a month.
Thieves are counting on that. Instead, check them more often. Check accounts a minimum of once a week, especially if you bank online. Set a day of the week, every week, to pop into your accounts—checking, savings and credit card accounts—to see if there’s been any funny business. This is especially important if you use a debit card often. The quicker you can catch trouble, the better!

DON’T answer security questions with the right answers.
This is not a test! No one is going to check your answers against the truth. This is just a way for companies to make sure that the you looking to make a purchase is really you. Some security questions are just too darn easy—a quick web search or even a good Facebook hacker can figure out your mother’s maiden name or your dog’s name. Beat hackers at their own game and use fun or funny answers that you’re sure to remember.

Follow these "don’ts" to protect your plastic and you’ll have more time, money and energy for all the "do’s" in your life!

Got a question for iVillage personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich? Email her at homeand.garden@nbcuni.com.

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