Keep Your Credit Card Safe While Shopping Online

By Beverly Harzog. Last updated 8 July 2014. 3 comments

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I was at Home Depot at 6:07 a.m. on Black Friday. I needed new Christmas décor, and Home Depot had exactly what I wanted at low prices.

So I got up early, thinking that if I didn’t get there by 6:15 a.m., the stuff I wanted would be long gone. You can imagine how surprised I was when I got there and the store was fairly empty. The employees practically greeted me at the door and offered me coffee and donuts.

Well, of course I said yes to the coffee and donuts. I had the sales flyer with me, so I pointed to what I wanted and the employees collected it all for me in a cart. I was back at my car at precisely 6:17 a.m., happy and on an exquisite sugar high.

I went from Home Depot to Target and had a similar experience, but without the donuts (get with the program, Target!). It was clear to me that folks had decided to shop online. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the recent numbers from comScore, a company that analyzes the digital world.

Their research showed that consumers have already spent $10.1 billion online, which is a 16% increase over last year. They predict, for the entire season, that consumers will spend $43.4 billion online, which is up 17% from last year.

But enough with boring stats. The fact is, if you shop online, you need to protect yourself. It might be the season of holiday cheer, but it’s also the season of credit card scams.

Here are some things you should keep in mind while clicking your way through the holidays. (See also: The 50 Best Deals and Coupon Sites)

Check the URL

Make sure you see "https" instead of just "http" in the web address. The "s" means it’s a secure site.

Now, according to the FTC, having the “s” isn’t a fool-proof method for identifying a fake website because some scammers try to create a fake “s". Good grief! But at least checking for an “s” is a step you can take to make sure you don’t enter delicate information onto a site without the “s” in the address.

Use a Credit Card

Don’t use a debit card for online shopping. A debit card is linked to your bank account, and if the website gets hacked, the thief will have access to your cash.

Sure, you can probably get most of the cash back over time, but you don’t need such trauma during the holidays. With a credit card, you have much better consumer protections, plus your cash accounts aren’t in jeopardy.

Don’t Fall for Phishing

If you get an email asking you to send your credit card account number and password, don’t take the bait (sorry, I had to get in at least one lousy pun related to fishing).

What type of credit card are you interested in?
How much do you spend per month?
Do you carry a balance?

The email might say you need to update or validate your account due to a variety of issues, including suspected fraud. The email might even look like it came from your bank. No legitimate company will ever ask for this type of sensitive financial information via email.

You have to be alert because scammers get more sophisticated all the time. I got an email that appeared to come from my daughter, who is at college. There was a link in the email, and I caught myself just in time. The scammer was clever to know that I might open the link quickly since it came from my kid. That was a close one!

Check Your Accounts Online for Fraud

This an oldie, but a goodie. I know you’re tired of hearing it, but think about how often you use your credit card at a restaurant and your card leaves your sight. Even if you’re shopping mostly online on a secure, well-known site, you’re still exposed in other areas of your life. And what if the reputable, well-known site gets hacked? It happens.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

It might be tempting to kick back with a latte in your favorite coffee shop while making purchases online, but it’s not a good idea. Hackers are capable of breaking into Wi-Fi connections at hot spots. Better to get the latte to go and shop at home than take the risk.

Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers

These are also sometimes referred to as “disposable” or “one-time use” numbers. Some issuers offer this service and it allows you to use a temporary number that's tied to your actual credit card account. When you buy an item, you use the temporary number assigned to your account.

So if the site you shopped on gets hacked, the thief can't access your real number. They get a bogus one. This keeps your real account number safe. Now, the details for this service vary by issuer. Visa offers this service, and they call it “Verified by Visa.”

It might sound a little tricky to use virtual numbers, but trust me — the steps are usually pretty simple, and best of all, it’s free.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Guest's picture

Also make sure that your computer is up to date (make sure you are using the most recent version of your browser of choice, and that you have any security patches available from Microsoft or Apple applied) and that you have antivirus and/or antimalware installed.

Also, being the suspicious type, I would prefer if you also used a direct wired connection even at home, rather than trusting your home wireless network. Nothing saying you've encrypted your connection to your router properly.

Guest's picture
Guest

For those who need public Wi-Fi (as in rural or areas with no or limited service Internet). I suggest spending a small amount on personal VPN (Virtual Private Network) provider. With a personal VPN, your PC connects to the VPN provider with an encrypted (like https) connection. Even if the hotspot is being abused by crackers, your connection to the VPN is secure from their nastiness. Then you can use your credit card relatively safely. Nothing is perfectly secure. Also, you do need to make sure that you are connecting to the true hotspot (and not a bogus middleman connection). None the less, VPN pushes the jerks away from you to less sophisticated users.

Guest's picture
DariaWilen

Last week i went outside of my town for some official work and while travelling i visited some cafe's and restaurants and i have used their public wifi's hotspots. In general i do lot of official meetings and you know internet access is must. Thus, for anonymous access to protect my sensitive data i always prefer "Hotspot Shield" free VPN.

It is very convenient to use and reliable. Really worth's giving it a try. I would conclude by saying that it is the best VPN i have ever used. Check it out here - http://www.hotspotshield.com