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Personal Finance
Keeping it safe

(MacWorld) -- Banking or conducting other financial transactions online is like stepping out of your house: there's no way to guarantee your safety (or privacy).

Pianos do fall from the sky, and banks do have their security breached. But both are rare occurrences.

Whether the convenience of online transactions outweighs the additional risk is something that each of us must decide for ourselves.

You can do a few simple things to minimize risk:

1. Avoid giving out your social security number (SSN). A thief who gets a hold of a SSN and name can get a credit card in that name within a matter of minutes (thanks to the Internet) and start spending right away, ruining your credit rating in the process.

2. Don't use debit cards for online purchases-they don't have the same protections against liability for fraud that credit cards do. You could lose everything in your account.

3. If you spend a lot of money on the Web with credit cards, get a card that offers a safe-shopping guarantee. At most, credit card holders are liable for the first $50 of fraud. Look for a guarantee that closes that gap for 100-percent coverage.

4. Carefully examine all credit card statements for unfamiliar transactions each month. If you don't recognize a transaction, call your bank. Even better, record credit card purchases in Quicken as you make them, and then reconcile that information with your statement each month.

5. At least once a year, request a credit report on yourself. Both and Microsoft's offer credit-report services that consolidate information from the main credit-reporting agencies.

6. Go on record with a letter to your bank or other financial institution stating that you do not want your personal information shared or included in marketing databases. You can also call a toll-free number set up by the national credit bureaus-888/5678688-to opt out of preapproved credit offers. Yes, the credit bureaus sell your information, too.

7. If you want to leave minimal traces of buying something, pay with cash.

(c) 2001 MacWorld

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.