MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - * NEVER USE A DEBIT CARD AT A FULL-SERVICE RESTAURANT. That's because you can't witness the swipe. You shouldn't use a debit card any place where you cannot witness the swipe transaction. Use cash instead or a credit card. With a credit card, you can simply dispute a charge and it will be credited to you. If your debit card's compromised, that's cash straight out of your checking account. *NOTE*: it's also not a good idea to use a debit card at a gas pump. That's because of the risks of theft skimmers installed on the pump's payment route and because of the risk of a pre-authorization charge to your card to make sure there's enough cash in your account to cover the transaction.
* GIVE THE ATM CARD-READER A "SHAKE." At ATM's, look at the card-reader closely. Give it a gentle shake. Try to move it. A legitimate card-reader should not move. If it does, someone has likely tampered with the ATM and installed a skimming device.
* CHECK BOTH YOUR BANK AND CREDIT CARD STATEMENTS. Look for any unusual or unauthorized transactions. Dispute them immediately.
* PULL YOUR CREDIT REPORT ONCE A YEAR. Check it for unusual activity. Federal law guarantees you a free one from each credit bureau (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion). Get them free in one stop, without hassle, at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
* CONSIDER A PASSWORD-PROTECTED SECURITY "FREEZE" ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT. It's cheap, and it'll keep sham accounts from being added to your report.
Here's one I used to tell viewers not to do, but I've changed my mind after a personal experience:
* CONSIDER A CREDIT MONITORING SERVICE. Consider only those offered by the credit bureaus. After all, they are the agencies that generate our credit reports in the first place. Be aware that one or more of them may not offer credit scoring -- and one or more may not be able to monitor reports on file with the other credit bureaus.
A few years ago, I received a free trial credit monitoring service through Experian. It caught a credit vendor's mistake that would have assigned someone else's Discover Card account to my credit report. It alerted me instantly via e-mail, and I was able to block the account.