So you're at a crowded cafe and call Ticketmaster on your cellphone to order some concert tickets.
You pull out your wallet and read off your credit card numbers to the operator over the phone.
Bad idea. The person sitting behind you could jot down those numbers, then head to the mall for a shopping spree, courtesy of your good credit.
It's been a hectic holiday season, and you haven't had a chance to look at your credit card statement.
You pay the bill but file away the statement without reviewing the list of purchases.
Bad idea. The thief's spending spree continues, and you've gotten swiped out.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, Americans will pull out the plastic and charge about $120 billion on their general credit cards, store credit cards and signature debit cards, up 5.4 percent from 2004, according to CardWeb.com, which publishes information about the industry.
The plastic is getting a lot of use lately. And increased use could translate to more opportunities for credit card theft or fraud.
It could happen numerous ways. You buy a stereo online from an unsecure site and a thief copies your numbers. A burglar, friend, employee or relative copies the numbers from the account statement left on your desk.
Most credit cards have zero liability, meaning you won't have to pay for the unauthorized purchases. And under federal law, the maximum amount you'll be liable for is $50.
But it's a pain to deal with credit card fraud.
For the consumer, the hassles are time lost calling companies and canceling cards, waiting for new cards to arrive, contacting police departments and filing papers to prove you were a victim of credit card fraud.
"Everyone pays a price when credit card fraud and identity theft occurs," said Dan Drummond, spokesman for Your Credit Card Companies, a group of financial services companies that promote consumer education about credit. They include Chase, Citigroup, MasterCard, Discover Card and MBNA.
Credit card fraud can cost financial services companies and businesses about $14 billion every year, according to CardWeb.com.
On the bright side for the consumer: If you inform your credit card company about a lost or stolen card before any unauthorized charges are made, you're not liable for any of the unauthorized charges, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Also, if you haven't lost your card, but someone accessed the number, you're not liable for any unauthorized use, according to the FTC.
"In a lot of cases the individual consumer can take a few simple steps and not worry," Drummond said.
Watch what you, others do
First, if you plan to be away from your house for a while and you have an unlocked mailbox, place a hold on your mail, Drummond said. You can pick it up from the post office when you return from vacation. You don't want any thieves to snatch up any account statements that are sitting in the unlocked box.
Don't give out your credit card numbers while talking on the phone while you're near others who can overhear.
"Be cautious about when and where you're giving out your numbers," said Angela Lyons, assistant professor of economics at the University of Illinois.
Sometimes people, college students in particular, will give a credit card or credit card number to friends for purchases over the Internet, Lyons said.
Also not a good idea.
"Your personal, private information is your personal, private information," Lyons said.
Even if your friend is trustworthy, he or she might lose the card or misplace the number.
If you buy something online, make sure you're doing so on a secure site.
"A lot of people shop online. You need to know about the Web site you're working with," said Jessica Tharp, director of operations at the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois. "Make sure to get all the details about where the company is located, their phone number. Know their refund and exchange policies," she said.
Next, consider where you keep your account statements. Again, college students are at risk of having their numbers stolen because friends, friends of friends, maintenance crews and other people often come and go through their dorms or apartments, Lyons said.
Keep tabs on those receipts and compare them with your monthly account statements. During the holidays, many people are too busy to read through their credit card receipts and compare them to their statements. Read them closely, consumer experts said.
Sometimes college students will have joint credit card accounts with their parents. Sometimes the student has a card and the bills are sent to the parents, Lyons said. If that's the case, don't wait until breaks to review statements.
If something is wrong
The first thing to do is stop the bleeding, Drummond said. Call the credit card companies, alert them to what's going on. They can cancel cards for you and issue new ones.
Next, call one of the three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You will only need to call one of the bureaus; placing a fraud alert on your report will automatically trigger a fraud alert at all the bureaus.
Then contact law enforcement to file a police report. And finally, if you're an identity theft victim, meaning someone has used your personal identifying information, such as a Social Security number to open new accounts, call the Federal Trade Commission at (877) ID-THEFT or (877) 438-4338.