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Research: Be Cautious With Your Credit Cards This Holiday Season -

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring … except mom and dad searching frantically for their lost credit cards. According to America’s fifth-largest lending institution PNC Bank, reports of lost or stolen credit cards increase by a startling 19% on average during the months of November and December.

Says Mark Ford, a consumer credit and debit card expert at PNC Bank, “Holiday shopping can be a hectic experience." However, the loss of a debit or credit card, by accident or due to theft, is quite often preventable.

Harried consumers often simply leave their card behind at the register in their rush to run their holiday errands. Staying alert while shopping is a good start to ensuring that your credit card winds up where it should – back in your wallet.

Always Be Aware of Where Your Card Is.

Don’t give in to the temptation to save a few seconds by tossing it in the bottom of your purse after a transaction, always put your card back in its designated spot inside your wallet or billfold. Never, ever leave your purse or wallet unattended for any amount of time. A moment is all a crafty thief needs to snatch your bag and scurry away.

Keep Your Card in Your Sights

Make sure that you position yourself at the register so that you can see your card at all times during a transaction. While there are certain places that this is more difficult – when paying after a meal at a restaurant, for example – simply ask to accompany the server or cashier to the point of sale where they will be swiping your card. And be certain to always get your card back after you use it to make a purchase.

Be a Scrooge With Your Card

Don’t ever allow anyone else to take your debit or credit card and use it to make purchases, and you shouldn’t co-sign for a card that will be utilized by someone else without you being present to supervise. Likewise, you should never, ever give out your account numbers, PIN numbers or other personal information to anyone over the computer or telephone that you don’t know.

Should you discover that your card is missing and fear that it has either been lost or stolen, call your card issuer immediately to report that the card is no longer in your possession. Change all passwords and PIN numbers associated with that particular account, and consider filing a police report.

Legally, the maximum amount of fraudulent charges made to your card that you can be held responsible for is $50. The rules are a little trickier when it comes to fraudulent charges made with debit cards. The same $50 limit applies to debit cards as long as you notify your bank within two days of the card’s disappearance. Beyond two days, your liability increases to $500 and could potentially increased to unlimited if unauthorized debit card transactions are not reported to the bank within 60 days. So if your card goes missing, call your creditor right away. Some banks may also charge a small fee for replacing the card.