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In the world today, consumers rely heavily on their credit and debit cards to make purchases both large and small. How many of us, after all, pay cash when fueling our cars? The odds are that you instead simply swipe your credit card at the pump.

And then there's online shopping. Most of us don't hesitate to order everything from movies to music to electronics through the Web.

Some of us even use debit cards to purchase our coffee on our morning commute to the office.

There's no denying that credit and debit cards are convenient to use. There's no arguing that they've made our lives simpler. But they've also increased the chances that we could become the victims of identity theft.

After all, if a thief steals your cash, you're out some money. If that same thief steals your credit card or debit card, this criminal could make a series of unauthorized purchases in your name, continuing to spend until you finally notice that your card is missing.

If thieves steal your credit or debit card account numbers, they could pile up the unauthorized purchases until you receive your next monthly statement and notice a large number of unusual transactions.

It's important, then, for consumers to take the steps necessary to protect themselves when using credit or debit cards. You don't want to suffer from credit- or debit-card fraud.

Using your cards safely

Credit card providers agree on several tips for using credit and debit cards safely.

First, they recommend storing your credit or debit cards in a safe place when you're not carrying them with you. Treat these cards much like you'd treat cash or checks.

We're all more comfortable today with sending personal information through e-mail messages. But you should never send your credit-card or debit-card number to anyone in an e-mail message, even if you trust the recipient. It's easy for hackers to intercept your e-mail messages. They'd love to have access to your credit- or debit-card account numbers.

You also should never give out your credit or debit card number over the telephone unless you initiated the call. For instance, if you call a hotel to make reservations, it's acceptable to give out your credit card number to secure that reservation. However, if someone calls you saying that they are from your credit-card issuer, never give this person your credit-card number. It could be a scammer trying to nab your personal information. Your credit-card issuer will never call you and then ask for your account number.

Finally, study your credit card account statement every time it arrives. Search for any unusual transactions that you don't remember making. They could be evidence that a thief has someone gained access to your credit card account number. If you use debit cards, make sure to check your bank statements regularly to make sure that no one has gained access to your card to make unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.

Added protection

Consumers who are hoping to avoid credit card and debit card fraud should follow other industry leader suggestions as well.

First, you should shred your bank account and credit card account statements before recycling them or throwing them in the trash. It's an old-fashioned way to gain your personal information, but some identity thieves aren't above digging through your trash to find your old statements.

You should also shred any unsolicited pre-approved credit card offers that find their way to your mailbox. Some thieves might use these offers to open credit card accounts in your name, something that can wreck your credit score.

Experts also recommend that you contact the issuer of your credit and debit cards as soon as you believe that someone may have stolen your cards or your account information. The faster you call, the faster your financial institution can shut down your stolen card or account.

If someone does steal your credit or debit cards remember that you are not required to pay for any unauthorized purchases that the thief makes. Consider it a form of protection that doesn't come with cash. When someone steals your cash, you have no way to get that money back. When someone makes unauthorized purchases on your credit card, you can inform your card issuer. You're then spared having to cover the costs of these illegal purchases.

There's no going back to a world without debit or credit cards. That doesn't mean, though that you can't take common-sense steps to protect yourself when using these spending tools.

There's no denying that credit and debit cards are convenient to use. There's no arguing that they've made our lives simpler. But they've also increased the chances that we could become the victims of identity theft.

© Fintactix, LLC 2015