FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 3, 2016) -- As retailers and businesses increasingly rely on electronic payment to conduct their transactions, consumers must be particularly careful to safeguard their credit and debit cards from fraud and theft.

Pretty much gone are the days when customers would visit the ATM or bank to withdraw cash for purchases. Now they carry credit and debit cards that give them instant, on-the-go access to their money.

Unfortunately, “digital banking” can be just as convenient for criminals, therefore, credit card users should take precautions to ensure identity thieves and other predators can’t use lost or stolen credit cards to make off with their money.

Consumers can protect themselves the minute they receive cards by immediately making and maintaining a list of their account numbers. Keep the list someplace safe and secure in the home. Having a record of this information will make it easier to report theft and block accounts if your wallet, purse or credit cards go missing.

Many consumers debate whether they should sign the signature block on the back of credit cards, thinking it’s a safeguard against identity theft.

Financial experts recommend doing so as soon as a card is received. Refusing to sign it – or writing something else like “See ID” – doesn’t provide any extra protection from credit card fraud and may violate the terms of the agreement with the credit card company or financial institution.

Furthermore, not signing it or writing “see ID” could hinder a business owner’s ability to prevent fraud. Although the typical cashier or server doesn’t check for a signature to verify a user’s identity, by signing the card, a merchant who does check can make sure the signature matches that of the person using it.

Another possible scenario if one does not sign the credit card is that it leaves a blank space for a thief to use, and a busy sales associate may not notice the discrepancy.

The bottom line is that it’s far less likely a thief will be able to take advantage of one’s signature on a credit card than any other source. In most instances, an individual’s “John Hancock” already appears on a driver’s license, a military identification card and other less conspicuous places like the tab left on the bar last Friday night.

Other smart precautions against credit card fraud and theft include not writing down PINs or account passwords. If one has to do so to avoid forgetting that information, the list should be kept separate from account numbers and secured in someplace other than a purse or wallet.

When documents containing account numbers and other financial or personal information are no longer needed, shred them. Do the same for junk mail, credit offers and any other documents that show up in the mailbox and contain personally identifiable information.

If credit cards are lost, report and cancel them immediately. This allows the credit card company to cancel the cards and may provide protection from responsibility for subsequent fraudulent purchases.

Be wary of those asking for credit card information, especially individuals on the phone who claim they need it to verify identity or to update accounts. For example, if someone claiming to be from the power company calls to ask for updated credit card information, hang up and call the customer service line.

Finally, check your billing statements often, and contact the credit card company as soon as suspicious activity is noticed. Consumers also can obtain a free copy of their credit report annually. Take the time to obtain that information and thoroughly review it.