Is Your Credit Card Safe?

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Let’s skip the introduction and go straight to the question—Is it safe to use your credit card number online?

Credit card fraud is not limited to the online world. It’s existed for as long as credit cards have been around, and it’ll exist for as long as credit cards do, in their current form. So, our question should be—Is it more dangerous to use a credit card online?

Available evidence says it isn’t. Or if there’s evidence to the contrary, card issuers are not yet talking about it. After all, bankers are a secretive lot.

There’s no reason for us not to use credit cards online, provided we take a few steps to ensure the security of our transaction. All that’s needed online is the credit card number and date of birth. The online vendor needs neither your signature nor physical access to the card. Your date of birth could generally be known. So, you need to be doubly careful to ensure that your credit card number doesn’t fall into the hands of unscrupulous elements.

Credit card details could potentially be stolen from you, your computer, or from vendors with whom you’ve used the credit card. Let’s take these one by one.

Don’t let your credit card lie around so that someone can pick up the number. Also, don’t give the number out to anyone other than a vendor.

Don’t put your credit card details in e-mail or generally store it in documents on your computer, particularly if it’s a shared or an office machine.

While entering your credit card number at an online store, ensure that you do so only on a secure page. If you’re asking for clarifications or help from the sites, you don’t have to give them your credit card number. If they ask for it, there’s something fishy. Stop all transactions at the site immediately and inform the Webmaster. Don’t enter your credit card number or date of birth as part of the information you give while registering at any site.

Online, the third instance—of the numbers being stolen from the vendor— could happen if someone hacks into an e-commerce server. Frankly speaking, you have no control over this, except hoping that the vendor takes enough care to ensure that his servers are not open to hackers.

The law is not very clear on your liability if someone uses your credit card fraudulently online. But check out with the bank that issued your credit card on their policies and guidelines for the same.

During our reviews in this issue, we were using my Citibank credit card to make purchases online. About half-way through, Citibank called me up to inform that these flurry of transactions were happening on my card and wanted to ensure that they were legitimate.

We called up Standard Chartered’s helpline and asked about the remedies available to a credit card holder in case of any misuse of the card online. Their answer was the card holder can complain about the transaction, but there was no way that the bank could stop the transaction. In fact, they went as far to state that they discourage the use of credit cards online.

The Amex helpline, when contacted said that in case someone else uses the card details online, then the card holder is liable to pay up.

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