Carrying plastic can be much more convenient than cash. Plus, using a credit card for your purchases enables you to earn airline miles, points, or cash-back rewards.

Unfortunately, there’s always a downside if you’re not paying with cash — the Federal Trade Commission reported that over 101,000 reports were filed about credit card theft or credit card fraud in 2023, a 35% increase from the number of reports in 2021.

Although the ability to use your card anywhere is helpful, using a credit card at the following places can be risky.

Many credit cards offer valuable rewards on purchases made at restaurants, bars, or through takeout services like UberEats or DoorDash. For example:

American Express® Gold Card: Amex Gold card members will earn four Membership Rewards Points per $1 spent at restaurants (see rates and fees).

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Cardmembers earn 3% cash back on dining.

DoorDash Rewards Mastercard®: With the DoorDash Rewards Mastercard, cardmembers can earn 4% cash back on DoorDash or Caviar orders.

However, paying your bill at a restaurant usually involves handing over a credit card to your server —giving someone an opportunity to copy your card details and use it to make unauthorized transactions.

Instead, use cash, mobile payments, or self-pay kiosks where available to avoid credit card theft. And always keep an eye on your credit card statements after you’ve been out to ensure there aren’t any unexpected purchases.

Many businesses have their own ATMs, giving customers a convenient way to take out cash. But non-bank ATMs aren’t always secure. They’re prone to skimming — meaning criminals install devices that capture users’ details. They can then use that data to create fake cards and make unauthorized transactions.

Try to only use ATMs at a major bank and those located in brightly lit, public locations monitored by security cameras. The FBI has a helpful visual resource of what to look for when using a non-bank ATM.

Other tips include:

  • Inspect ATMs, point-of-sale terminals, and other card readers before using your card. If anything looks off — loose or damaged components — don’t use it.

  • Check the keypad before you put in your PIN to ensure it’s not a skimmer. The FBI recommends pulling the edges of the keypad to see if anything is loose or comes up.

  • When entering your PIN, cover the keypad to avoid being recorded by any hidden cameras.

  • Use debit and credit cards with chip technology versus a magnetic strip. According to the FBI, there are fewer skimmers in the U.S. that can steal your data via chip.

Like ATMs, fuel pumps are common targets for scammers. They can install skimming devices that copy your information, which they can later use to make fraudulent purchases.

If you have to use your credit card at a gas station, the FBI recommends choosing a well-lit place. When using the pump, look for any signs of tampering. Many gas stations place security tape around the payment panel; if the tape is torn, it has likely been altered by scammers.

If you aren’t sure whether a pump is secure and don’t have enough gas to make it to another station, take your card inside to pay the attendant directly rather than swiping your card at the pump.

Not all online retailers’ websites are encrypted or secure. Some look like reputable sites, but they collect customer information like passwords or credit card numbers using phishing.

According to the Federal Deposit ​​Insurance Corporation (FDIC), “Scammers often create fake websites that are so similar to the sites of popular retailers, it easily tricks consumers into providing payment information.” The scammers steal your credit card information and your money, but you’ll never receive your purchase. The FDIC warns that scammers also develop fake apps, designed to infect your phone with malware, steal your personal information, and even lock you out of your device and hold it for ransom.

Even major retailers aren’t immune from being compromised by data breaches, so it’s best practice to use virtual card numbers instead of your card’s actual number. Many credit card companies — including American Express, Capital One, and Citi — offer virtual cards. These are one-time digital credit card numbers you can generate for an online purchase, protecting your real credit card information from theft.

If you encounter a phishing website or app disguised as a legitimate company, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps — such as Apple Pay or Cash App — are an increasingly popular way to send money to friends and family, and pay for goods or services. However, as the Federal Communications Commission notes, “Unlike traditional banks and credit cards, payment app services often lack the same fraud protections purchase.”

In other words, once the money is sent, it’s likely gone.

Only send payments to people you know and trust. The FTC explicitly warns consumers not to send or receive a P2P payment from someone they don’t know. But if there’s ever a case where you have no other options, choose a P2P app that can protect you from unscrupulous sellers by allowing you to send payment as a business transaction versus a personal transaction.

As well as reporting suspected scammers to the FTC, you can report fraud directly to the P2P companies:

While you may not be able to avoid using your credit card all the time, there are some steps you can take to protect your card:

  • Set up fraud alerts: With most card issuers, you can set up fraud alerts to receive emails or text messages when suspicious charges are made. If your information is stolen, these notifications allow you to take action quickly.

  • Use contactless or mobile payments: Contactless and mobile payments allow you to use your card without physically handing it over or swiping it, keeping your information more secure.

  • Review your statements: Review your credit card statements regularly (at least once per month). By catching and reporting unauthorized transactions, you can alert your credit card company. The FTC states that, by law, you aren’t responsible for more than $50 of unauthorized credit card transactions.


This article was edited by Rebecca McCracken


Editorial Disclosure: The information in this article has not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The details on financial products, including card rates and fees, are accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information. This site doesn’t include all currently available offers. Credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.



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