Now that plastic is replacing paper for purchases both online and in stores, many shoppers are worried about the risks presented by credit cards: Will the store clerk steal my credit card number? Will someone highjack my number when I make an online purchase?  Am I letting myself in for identity theft by using plastic?

Frank Abagnale, world-renowned expert on fraud and author of the book Catch Me if You Can, sometimes shocks audiences at fraud seminars by stating that he uses credit cards for almost all his daily transactions.  Abagnale states that using credit cards removes 99.9% of the risk in any transaction, transferring the liability from the buyer to the credit card company.  “If someone looks over my shoulder, copies down my credit card number and uses it to charge $1 million worth of merchandise, by federal law I am not liable for one dime,” he explains.

Here are some other helpful hints offered by Abagnale, condensed from a fraud prevention event:

  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card for daily purchases – everything from dry cleaning and groceries to gasoline and fast food.
  • If you must use a debit card, ask to sign for your purchase instead of using your PIN.  This usually gives you the same protection you get from a credit card.
  • Using your credit card may improve your credit score.  Using a debit card has no effect on your credit score.
  • Don’t worry about buying things online with a credit card – the credit card company is the one assuming the risk.
  • If you get into a disagreement with a merchant, instead of going to Small Claims Court, dispute the charge when you get your credit card statement, and the merchant will have to deal with the credit card company.

Credit cards offer several benefits that debit cards do not: some offer reward programs that allow you to earn points for airline travel, hotels, etc.  Some cards also extend the warranties for items purchased with the card.