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A credit card is a thin plastic card, usually 3-1/8 inches by 2-1/8 inches in size, that contains identification information such as a picture or signature, and authorizes the person named on it to charge purchases or services to his account - charges for which he will be billed periodically.

There are basically three types of credit cards:

  • Bank cards, issued by banks (for example: MasterCard, Visa and Discover Card);
  • Travel and entertainment (T&E) cards, such as American Express and Diners Club;
  • House cards that are good only in one chain of stores (Sears is the biggest one of these, followed by the oil companies, phone companies and local department stores.) T&E cards and national house cards have the same terms and conditions wherever you apply.

The good news is that consumers are protected by law - in case of credit card fraud online or off, you are only liable for a maximum of $50 of the amount stolen.

These tips are important and universal:

  • Sign your card - as soon as you receive it! (Obviously, this is only as effective as the clerk who's checking it.);
  • When you use your card at an ATM, enter your PIN in such a way that no one can easily memorize your keystrokes;
  • Don't leave your receipt behind at the ATM;
  • Never give your credit-card number over the telephone unless you initiated the call;
  • Ignore any credit card offer that requires you to spend money up-front or fails to disclose the identity of the card issuer;
  • Make certain you get your card back after you make a purchase (one habit to observe is to leave your wallet open in your hand until you have the card back). Also, make sure that you personally rip up any voided or cancelled sales slips;
  • Always keep a list of your credit cards, credit card numbers and toll-free numbers in case your card is stolen or lost;
  • Check your monthly statement to make certain all charges are your own, and immediately notify the card issuer of any errors or unauthorized charges.

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