Credit cards have real advantages over cash, including fraud protection, budgeting simplicity and the flexibility to pay off your balance over time. But paying with a credit card is not without risk-especially on the web.
Secure your financial life by understanding the risks associated with online shopping and taking steps to protect your credit card on the web.
Online threats to your credit card
The primary threat you face when using a credit card to make online purchases is that your card number could get stolen. Once your card information is acquired by thieves, they may use it to make a purchase-or resell it to another fraudster.
There are multiple ways a digital thief could acquire and use your credit card information improperly:
- Within your local Wi-Fi network. If you're connected to an open Wi-Fi hotspot, someone in the immediate area may be able to intercept your web traffic. Your email, passwords and-yes-credit card number could get scooped up.
- On an unsecured website connection. Ever notice the lock icon in your web browser's address bar, or "https" at the beginning of a URL? These signs indicate that you're on a secure connection. If you send your card info over a connection that's not secure, someone could intercept your data between your computer and the website you're browsing.
- On malicious websites. Many fake websites exist for the sole purpose of harvesting consumers' personal information.
- By hacking into a legitimate website. Data breaches are rare, but they do happen. If a website doesn't do enough to protect your personal information, your card number could get taken.
5 ways to help keep your credit card safe online
While it's true that a myriad of threats exist to your online security, you can take action to help stay safe on the web. Help protect your credit card information with the following strategies:
- Share your card information only with recognizable and secure websites. Ensure the information you send to a website is encrypted by looking for the lock icon or "https" in your browser's address bar. Most websites are now encrypted: if a site isn't, that may be a red flag.
- Log out of online stores and other personal accounts when you finish shopping. If you're using a public computer, always be sure to log out completely from your online accounts when you're done shopping. Consider doing this with your personal devices, too, for maximum protection.
- Consider using a password manager. Many password managers can be instructed to save your credit card information. Saving your card number this way-behind a single, very strong password-is more secure than having it saved on individual websites.
- Keep your browser and devices up to date. Combat hackers by ensuring all of your devices and applications are up to date.
- Consider using a virtual card number to make online purchases. Many card issuers offer one-time-use credit card numbers known as virtual card numbers. They can be used only for a single transaction, so merchants don't receive your real card number.
What to do if your card information is compromised or stolen
If you realize you put your credit card information into a fraudulent or suspicious website--or have another reason to suspect your card number could be accessed by fraudsters--take the following steps to lock down your account:
- Notify your bank or card issuer. Call your credit card issuer to let them know you think your card was compromised. It's important to act fast. You may not be liable for the fraudulent charges as long as you notify your card issuer quickly, but this varies depending on the credit issuer's policy.
- Monitor your credit card statements closely. Even if you've taken the steps to prevent fraudulent activity on your account, it's a good idea to look at your future statements line-by-line. If you see any charges you don't recognize, you'll have up to 60 days to dispute them.
- Review the merchants with whom you had saved your card number. Your card issuer will send you a new card free of charge if you report your old one as lost or stolen. Yet if you've saved your old card information with merchants-such as streaming services or utility companies-you'll need to update them with your new card number.
Tips for securely using your credit card online
A credit card is a valuable tool for shopping online, but it pays to be smart when making online purchases with credit. Stay secure by only shopping from legitimate websites and be careful where you save your card information. And as a general rule, read your credit card statements carefully to look for any fraudulent charges.