June 28, 2014 at 11:31 AM ET
High-profile thefts of customer data, most recently at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, may have some Americans wondering whether to use their debit or credit cards when making purchases.
About 40 percent of U.S. adults have been notified by a company or organization that their personal information was involved in a large data breach. Of those, about one-third will be a victim of fraud, according to research from Javelin Strategy.
However, it's not likely we're all suddenly going to switch to cash. TODAY Financial Editor Jean Chatzky shares these tips for how to protect yourself from credit card or identity theft.
The most dangerous form of fraud is identification theft, where a thief gathers enough information about you to apply for a mortgage, credit card or job in your name or even to file for (and receive) your tax refund. We put ourselves at risk of this when we post identifying details on our social networks, such as our birthdates, the names of our pets or even our addresses. Be careful. Location-sharing is particularly dangerous. People who use location-sharing networks are, according to research, nearly five times more likely to be victims of ID theft.
Take basic protective measures.
You shouldn't be conducting important transactions on public Wi-Fi or unsecured networks. You also should install a firewall and anti-virus software on your own personal network (something, for example, 26 percent of newlyweds haven't done) and to set that software to automatically update. Make sure your passwords are strong (at least 8 characters, upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols that don't form a word that you can find in the dictionary). Those who change their passwords frequently, research shows, are 40 percent less likely to be victims of ID theft. And don't use auto-login. Those who forgo this convenience are 39 percent less likely to be victims.
Pay attention to your own paper trail.
The best defense against ID theft is a good offense. The key to making sure it doesn't overtake your life is to shut it down as soon as it occurs. You can do this by paying attention to what's going on in your financial life, reviewing your credit report annually from annualcreditreport.com (which is free), reading your credit card statements to flag improper transactions, and monitoring your bank accounts on a regular basis.