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How to Keep Your Credit Card Information Safe When Online Shopping

Online shopping has never been easier or more popular with consumers. The bargains are mind-boggling. The selection is vast. Shipping is often free and fast. And those dreaded returns are getting simpler all the time.

According to the 2017 Deloitte holiday retail survey , the Internet isn’t just for browsing anymore. In past surveys, Deloitte found consumers were going online to find deals and recommendations, but when it came time to actually making a purchase, shoppers still hit the stores.

Last year, survey respondents said they planned to spend 51% of their holiday gift-buying budget online, compared with 42% in-store. And the National Retail Federation reported a year over year increase in online “and other non-store” sales of 11.5% in 2017.

This year, the number of online shoppers will likely grow again. But so will the angst about cyber security, identity theft, and credit card fraud. Thanks to regular reports about security breaches large and small, it’s hard not to worry about credit card safety. ACI Worldwide, which powers electronic payments globally, reported in January that online fraud attempts increased by 22% during the 2017 holiday season .

Unfortunately, most victims of online theft won’t have a clue until their credit card accounts have been used. There are legal protections in place to help limit how much that can cost you in actual dollars, but not for the loss of peace of mind—or the time spent recouping from the damage.

Imagine starting the new year making endless phone calls—to your bank, one of the three major credit card bureaus, and the Federal Trade Commission, among others .

Which is why it’s so important to shield yourself by being savvy about using a credit card for online shopping. Here are five ways to help safeguard your transactions:

Have a Plan for How You’ll Pay for Your Online Purchases

Many cybercrime experts agree that if you’re only going to do one thing to protect yourself while shopping online, it should be to avoid using a debit card. If your credit card number is stolen, federal law guarantees you should only be liable for up to $50 , and in many cases you may not be responsible for any charge at all. This may give you some piece of mind, as you won’t be stuck with a huge bill if you card gets taken.

There are also protections for a compromised debit card, but depending on where you bank, it may take a few days to get back the money if a thief has drained it from your bank account. In the meantime, you could struggle to pay your daily expenses. It is important to remember to report fraudulent activity as soon as it happens.

Think about setting aside one specific credit card for online transactions, and don’t use that card for anything else. Don’t even put it in your wallet. This will make it easier to review your accounts and spot any fraudulent activity.

If a charge shows up on a card you haven’t used, you’ll know right away that it’s bogus. And you’ll be able to tick through the charges on the credit card you used for online shopping to make sure they’re correct.

You may even decide to take it a step further and use a secured credit card , which allows you to deposit a set amount of money into a separate account in advance. (Not only does this help protect your account information from being compromised, this move also might help you stick to your budget.)

Ecommerce services such as PayPal or Apple Pay also offer protections for buyers and sellers. If you use one of these services, a vendor receives limited details about the credit or debit card you choose to use.

Don’t Make Online Purchases while Using Public Wi-Fi

Avoid making purchases while using public Wi-Fi. It’s a good idea to even avoid using a friend’s connection if you aren’t sure it’s safe. And, it might be a good time to make sure your own home connection is secure .

When a shared connection’s security and encryption protections are disabled, your data is out there traveling unprotected, vulnerable to snoops and thieves.

If you’re looking at a now-or-never holiday deal that you just can’t pass up, and you aren’t at home, it’s probably better to make the purchase from your phone using your cellular network, or to use your phone as a temporary hotspot for your laptop. (Just be sure you’ve maximized every aspect of your phone’s security , just as you would your Wi-Fi.)

Be a Cautious Cardholder

By the time you hear about a security breach, such as those experienced by Target in 2013 or Home Depot in 2014 , your personal information could have already gone up for sale to criminals who can’t wait to use it.

At the very least, you should be checking your credit card statements monthly for questionable transactions. If you’ve been part of a data breach or had a card or card number stolen, it’s wise to check it more often.

You also may want to do daily or weekly checks during the holiday shopping season. Most banks and credit card issuers offer account access online; just go to each website to sign up or download the appropriate app.

You also can set up “single transaction” alerts that will be sent to your email address or texted to you. You decide the minimum amount you want to know about—whether it’s a penny or $100. To be extra secure, you can ask for a push notification .

Consider The Web Vendor’s Reputation

Sometimes it pays to look past the absolute best price you can find online and consider the vendor’s reputation. It carries a different kind of value. Think about the protections the merchant put in place for you, including:

•  Some vendor sites, including Amazon, offer two-step verification or two-factor authentication, which adds a layer of security to your online experience. You might be able to set it up using fingerprint or facial recognition or a numerical code that you’ll use along with a password when you log in.

•  Always check the website’s URL. It should start with HTTPS (the s stands for secure) instead of HTTP. These sites are secured using an encrypted link between the web server and a browser, which offers another layer of protection for your credit card information. That little padlock icon you see is the symbol for HTTPS encryption; it means the vendor is attempting to stop any kind of intrusion.

•  Don’t get caught by an email or social media scam. Email fraud isn’t new, of course, and you should be vigilant year-round. But phishing typically peaks around the holidays when people expect to receive notices about sales or coupons from retailers—and busy shoppers don’t always pay close attention to what they’re doing. You might click on a link and inadvertently download malware or enter your password, address, and other types of personal information cyber thieves can’t wait to steal. Sometimes scammers will even create fake social media handles and ads to promote deals. These posts might include coupons, too-good-to-be-true holiday promotions, or gift cards. Keep an eye out for misspellings, awkward wording in the email or text, or a URL that just doesn’t seem legit.

Be Careful with Your Personal Information

If vendors are doing their part to protect your data, it’s important that you keep your information secure too. It can be a pain but try to use different passwords for all the accounts you set up. And make sure those passwords are as strong as possible. You know the drill: Shoot for 12 characters, upper and lower case, and throw in a symbol or two for good measure.

Consider using a password manager . It will help you create stronger passwords and keep you from having to tote around a long list in your wallet (definitely a no-no) or your head.

And, while it may be tempting, don’t share your passwords with friends or family. It’s also worth changing your passwords occasionally. If you’ve been involved in a breach, change your passwords right away.

One more significant thing you can do to help yourself is to get an overall handle on your money. SoFi Checking and Savings®, a checking and savings account, allows you to track your primary financial needs through the SoFi app.

So, you can check your balance, send money, add money to your account, and—especially important at the holidays—monitor your weekly spending. If you need cash, you can use your SoFi Checking and Savings card at any ATM.

And, when it comes to security, we take it very seriously. We monitor your account for fraudulent activity, plus you can freeze your card anytime within the app. Keep that in mind this holiday season as you throw another log on the fire and log in to shop online.

Sign up for SoFi Checking and Savings today and you’ll have access to one checking and savings account that allows you to spend, save, and earn all in one product.

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