'Hackers' and 'cyber' have been all over the news in recent years. After the OPM hack in 2015 that compromised the personal data of over 20 million federal employees, it is understandable to be apprehensive about posting your credit card or financial information online. On the other hand, the convenience of retail services such as Amazon or online bill paying leave many of us to choose between security and utility. Luckily, it's possible to nearly eliminate the risk of using your credit cards online by following some easy-to-remember tips from your local in-home computer specialists.
Verify the Security of the Site
The very first step to ensure safe online credit card use is to only purchase or give your business to trusted websites. That means only websites that you navigated to or searched for, rather than links from e-mails or popups, should receive your financial information. A quick way to verify that you are using a trusted site is to look for the SSL verification in your browser. In Firefox, this appears as a small green 'padlock' image to the left of the website address bar. In Chrome, you will have a more detailed padlock image and the letters 'https' may or may not be highlighted in green. Similar imagery is used in other browsers. SSL is a security protocol that verifies the identity of sites through a chain of authorities and verified sites all share the letters 'https' before their URL.
Use Your Credit Card, Not Your Debit Card
Debit cards serve a purpose, but purchasing items from the Internet is not part of it. Whenever you need to purchase an item or pay a bill, including recurring bills, consider using credit cards only. While this may not be an option for everyone, it limits the overall liability to you in case of fraud and provides much better consumer support. In most cases, fraudulent charges to your credit card can be reversed immediately with a much lower liability (less than $100) than with debit cards.
Only Order From Your Home or Trusted Network
A lot of the risk involved with using your credit card online comes not from the sites you are giving your information to, but from the computer you are using or the network you are communicating over. The safest website in the world would not prevent a virus-riddled computer from stealing your information as you type it into your keyboard, and compromised networks can effectively funnel all of your data through a hostile intermediary. With that in mind, keep your computer clean and only use your credit card on trusted, secured networks.
If you're still concerned about a site using your financial information maliciously, there are several other options to keep your Amazon Prime deliveries coming. First, you can trust your information to only one site who manages payments to the others. For example, Paypal.com allows users to connect directly to their bank account using their account and routing number (just the information on a check). This creates a trusted relationship between Paypal and your bank, allowing you to fund an online wallet on-demand that is accepted at most online retailers. Even if they don't accept Paypal, Paypal can provide you with a one-time 'credit card number' that you can use to pay from your paypal balance or bank account.
If you want to avoid putting your information online entirely, you could also purchase prepaid credit cards from many retail chains that are accepted online. When in doubt, give us a call to get an expert opinion before you risk your credit card information.