Online Shopping this Holiday Season? Keep Your Credit Card Information Safe

November 9, 2018
Ask Marietta Jelks

Dear Marietta,

I love doing my holiday shopping online so I can avoid the long lines at the mall and try to score some good sales, but with all the news of hackers stealing credit card information lately, I'm nervous this year. What can I do to keep my information safe?

A Cautious Consumer

Hi Cautious!

This is a great question. We love the convenience of online shopping, but we definitely don’t want to face the potential aggravation of hacked accounts that could result. Unfortunately, there’s no 100% fail-proof solution. But there are some things you can do to protect yourself during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales and beyond.

First things first: before you submit any payment information, make sure you’re on a secure website. The URL on the payment screen should have “https” instead of “http.” Also, if you’re shopping on a wireless network, make sure it’s secure, and protected by a password.

In terms of the payment method, avoid using your checking account or debit card. If your account information or card is stolen, a hacker could wipe out all the money in your account. A good thing about credit cards is that you are only liable for a maximum of $50 for fraudulent charges. You may also be able to add extra security features on a credit card. For instance, some card issuers offer text message verifications. Immediately after a transaction happens, you’ll receive a text message to allow you to confirm that it’s legit, and not a fraud. And some card issuers have implemented two-factor authentication for online purchases. After you submit your payment information, you’ll receive an email or text message with a one-time use code. To complete the transaction, you’ll enter that code on their website to confirm that it’s really you making the purchase.

You could also use an online payment system, which would be connected to your credit card or bank account. If the retailer you’re shopping with accepts that online payment service, you can make your transaction through it, and not share your credit card or bank account information directly with the retailer.

And if you don’t want to deal with any of this, you could always buy gift cards and use them to shop online. Just remember not to throw them away after you’ve used them, in case you need to return or exchange any of the gifts you buy with them.

Marietta Jelks is the editor of the Consumer Action Handbook, where you can find more information on keeping your money safe, avoiding scams and fraud and more. Have a question for Marietta? Email askmarietta@gsa.gov and she may answer it in a future column.

USAGov is a federal program that guides you to tips and tools in English and in Spanish from hundreds of government agencies, departments, and programs. We make it easier for you to find answers you can trust about government information and services--online, by phone, or asking on Facebook or via Twitter.

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