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An illustration of a computer screen used for online shopping.
An illustration of a computer screen used for online shopping.
An illustration of a computer screen used for online shopping.

Published October 24, 2016.
Updated November 6, 2019.

When shopping on the web, verify first.

Your credit card information, like an embarrassing secret, should only be shared with trustworthy institutions.

Five ways to keep a secret.

1. Find out who you're dealing with.

Before giving credit card information to an online store:

  • Search the site for a real phone number and address.
  • Read the retailer's privacy policy to learn how they collect and use your information.
  • Look for reviews and ratings of the site and its products. Start with the Better Business Bureau. Then search the web with the site's name and the word "review" or "complaint."
  • Don't be tricked by unearned "trust seals." Anyone could copy and paste a logo onto their site.

2. Look in your browser's address bar.

Two good signs:

  • The website's address starts with "https." The "s" indicates a secure connection.
  • A locked padlock or unbroken key icon in the address bar indicates the site is using encryption to scramble your data, to prevent thieves from stealing it.

3. Stick with secure networks and private computers.

Don't buy online using an open network (like at a coffee shop or an airport).

Using credit, not debit, to shop online protects against a drained checking account.

4. Consider using a digital wallet.

Apple Pay, Mastercard Click to Pay, and other digital wallets store your payment and shipping information with multiple layers of security and send data over encrypted channels.

5. Be wary of email.

Your email could be intercepted or shared without your knowledge. Don't use email to send financial or private information to anyone, including retailers.

Also, be wary of unsolicited email. Reputable online retailers don't send you emails unless you signed up to get them.

Use credit, not debit, to pay online.

When you use a credit card and suspect a "billing error" online — including unauthorized charges — federal law lets you withhold payment while you dispute the charges. It also limits your liability to $50.

However, perhaps the best reason to use credit, not debit, online is to protect yourself against a drained checking account. That can lead to all kinds of hassles: missed rent payments, no money for groceries, possible overdraft fees, and so on.

When a fraudster steals your debit card information, it's your own money at risk. With a credit card, it's your financial institution's money that gets tied up.

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