Use of credit and debit cards online create unique security issues not typically encountered offline, primarily because of the frequency of those transactions, persistent storage of credit card information, and the number of merchants from which we purchase online. Whatever benefits chip-and-pin and biometric technology bring to offline transactions will not help when shopping online. There are a number of ways you can minimize the potential theft of card information while shopping online and, more importantly, the impact if your card is compromised.
Here are the first of a number of suggestions. We will offer additional tips in the next installment of our Privacy Perils series. Which you adopt depends on how conservative you want to be, and your particular online shopping habits:
- Always use a credit card online, never a debit card. Debit cards do not always provide the same $50 max (and typically $0) fraud protection that most Visa, MasterCard and Amex credit cards do, primarily because debit cards do not have the same consumer protection laws that credit cards have. In addition, it may be easier to recover your money for a credit card purchase than one made by debit card.
- Consider designating one – preferably low credit limit – card for online shopping only. Consolidating charges to a particular card makes it easier to review and recognize fraudulent activity on the account. Also consider replacing that card at regular intervals (i.e., report it lost every so often). You can also set up PayPal accounts backed by bank accounts with a low balance.
- Similarly, consider having another card dedicated to recurring charges. One of the biggest challenges when your information is compromised is contacting a number of creditors to let them know your card number has changed. It is often easier to have one card dedicated to those recurring charges that hopefully is less vulnerable to theft and a corresponding number change because you are not using it online.
- If you are buying from a site you are not familiar with that has bad reviews or seems risky, consider using a disposable "burn card" (or a prepaid card) for those sites.