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One Step Ahead
December 9, 2008, Volume 55, No. 15

One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Holiday Shopping, Credit Cards & Credit Reports: "Free" Isn't Always Free

Even as we hear of a “credit crunch” around the world, it’s likely that once again the holiday season will see Americans’ credit card balances reach their annual peak. Before going online or heading out to the malls, it’s worth pausing to consider some basic security measures when using credit cards:

• When shopping online, be sure that you’re using a “secure server” site (check for “https:” in the URL and/or a “locked padlock” icon in the browser frame).

• In stores, watch to see if credit cards are taken away from the counter and/or out of the customer’s sight while purchases are being authorized. If you can’t see your card or the clerk, you don’t know if your card information is being written down surreptitiously.

• Many security experts suggest using credit cards instead of debit cards.  The maximum liability for unauthorized charges on a credit card is $50. The liability for unauthorized use of a debit card can be much higher, depending upon when you report the loss.

• Likewise, experts suggest that, provided you observe basic precautions as mentioned above, using credit cards is safer than writing checks, which can easily be altered to change the payee and amount. If you do find yourself writing checks, use a pen with pigment-based rather than water-based ink, and either write the payee name yourself or ask that the store stamp be applied in your presence.

A final caution in these times of heightened credit awareness: under Federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report per year. For the report to be truly free, without qualification, you must visit www.annualcreditreport.com, NOT www.freecreditreport.com.


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For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security/.

Almanac - December 9, 2008, Volume 55, No. 15