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Online shopping makes it easy and affordable for you to get all the things you need. Before you visit another e-commerce store, take a few minutes to learn about the importance of credit card safety. Knowing a few tips could lower your risk of fraud significantly.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were over 365,000 reports of credit card fraud in 2020 alone. It accounted for 29.7 percent of identity theft complaints that year.
Unfortunately, the number of credit card theft and identity fraud cases probably dwarf the number of complaints the government receives. Data breaches and malware — especially malware that tracks the keys you use to record “private” information you give secured websites — make it possible for thieves to steal your credit card number even when the card is safe in your wallet.
You can follow online security tips to lower your risk, but you cannot eliminate the chance that someone will steal your information.
Before you give up on credit card safety, consider additional ways to make yourself a smaller, more challenging target to thieves.
Virtual cards — also called pseudo cards and temporary cards — give you significantly more control over your money and privacy.
When you create a virtual card through a service like Privacy, you can generate payment numbers that get used once. Anyone who steals the temporary number after you use it won’t have access to your credit card.
You can also make virtual cards that get used more than once. They make a great option when paying for online subscriptions that charge you every month. Unlike your regular credit card, you can set a strict limit on how much gets charged to your virtual number.
Setting a limit of $10, for example, would prevent anyone from charging more than $10 at a time. If someone steals your virtual card number, you don’t lose much. The limit also prevents merchants from overcharging you.
Finally, you can link virtual cards to specific businesses. If you frequently buy from an e-commerce site like Amazon, give the website a virtual card number that only works for Amazon purchases. If a criminal gets your number, they can’t use it anywhere else.
Using a virtual private network (VPN) creates a connection between you and the internet. All the information traveling between your computer and websites gets encrypted. Anyone monitoring your activity will only see random numbers and letters.
VPNs come in handy when you access the internet through someone else’s Wi-Fi router — such as the one at work or your neighborhood coffee shop. Public Wi-Fi is dangerous because criminals can make fake networks for you to use. When you access the internet through their fake network, they can see all the data between you and websites. It’s called a “man in the middle” attack.
If someone can see your information, they can record your credit card number, PIN, security answers, and other data. Now they have everything they need to use your credit card.
Every online account you have should have a different username and password. You need to use strong passwords that make it difficult for hackers to break into your account. A strong password should have:
Most people cannot remember long strings of random characters, especially when creating a unique password for each account. While it makes account access more secure, it also makes accessing that account more troublesome.
A password manager makes it much easier to access accounts without jeopardizing your security. With a password manager, you only need to remember one password. The app will do everything else for you.
Checking your credit report will help you see any unauthorized activity in your name. If someone uses your information to open a new credit card account, you should see it listed on your credit report.
Without a credit report, you might never know that the illicit account exists — at least until someone comes to collect their money.
Luckily, you can get three free credit reports per year. Every four months, request a report from one of the three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you see anything suspicious, contact the credit bureau reporting it and the company that provided the information.
The U.S. government has a helpful website with information about requesting credit reports, comparing credit scores, correcting errors, and reporting potential identity theft.
Practically every bank and credit union gives clients online access to their credit card accounts. Use that to your advantage. Monitoring your account will make it nearly impossible for someone to use your credit card information for very long.
The more often you check your account, the sooner you will spot signs of theft. Improve your credit card safety by logging in to your account at least twice a week.
Notify your bank immediately when you see a suspicious transaction. Often, the bank can reverse the charge so you don’t lose any money. Your financial institution also might want to cancel the card and send you a new one with a different number.
Credit card safety doesn’t mean choosing one strategy that will protect your number from criminals. The best approach should include adding as many levels of protection as you can. Protect your credit card number security with virtual credit numbers, VPNs, strong passwords, credit report requests, and credit card account monitoring.
Take an active stance so you can stay ahead of the people who want to steal your information.