Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Using a Credit Card Online is Safer than Using It in a Store

Many people have a phobia about using credit cards online. They think it is unsafe to do so as hackers supposedly can steal the credit card numbers as the information passes through the networks. Indeed, there was some truth to that years ago when the World Wide Web was in its infancy and SSL encryption was not yet in widespread use. Technology has improved since those days and using a credit card online today is safe and secure. However, many people have not yet changed their opinions.

It does seem ironic that the use of credit cards in stores, barber shops, beauticians, gas stations, and elsewhere has become high-risk in recent years. Recent security breaches at Target, Sony, Home Depot, Staples, CVS, K-Mart, JP Morgan Chase, Global Payment Systems, Adobe, eBay, UPS, the USPS, and other prominent companies have leaked some combination of consumer Social Security Numbers, credit card data (including billing addresses), email addresses, and passwords. The interesting thing is that the stolen information did not come from online use of credit cards. Instead, all the credit card numbers and other information stolen were stored as a result of the credit cards being used in person in a store.

In the past two or three years, hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers have been stolen as a result of being used in a store. In the same time period, the number of credit card numbers stolen from online use is nearly zero. I now prefer to use my credit cards online but am using them less and less for in-person transactions because history has proven that in-person use is riskier than using the same credit card online.

In all cases, the credit cards are fully insured against fraudulent use. For instance:

VISA credit cards and debit cards are fully insured against fraudulent purchases, both online and in person, with no deductible charge. Details are available at:

MasterCard (including both debit cards and credit cards) is fully insured against fraudulent purchases, both online and in person, with no deductible charge. Details are available at:

American Express: Use the American Express card online or off, and you won’t be held responsible for any fraudulent charges. Period. If someone uses your American Express card without your consent, you’ll never pay any part of the fraudulent charges. See

Discover Card: You’re not responsible for any unauthorized charges on your account—online, offline, anytime, anywhere. See

In all cases, the credit card holder is not liable for credit card fraud. He or she will never lose a dime assuming the fraudulent transaction is reported promptly.

I now have several credit cards and, with one exception, all of them send me an email message within seconds any time the card is used. The email message includes the name of the store, the date and time of the transaction, and the amount charged. The one exception is Bank of America which only sends an email message once a day listing the previous day’s activities.

My smartphone is configured to read my email messages and to notify me when any new messages are received. In most cases, when I use my credit card in a store, the smartphone on my belt soon chirps when a new message is received from the credit card company. The message usually arrives about the time I am walking out the door of the store, sometimes even before I can place the credit card back into my pocket.

In the unlikely event that someone does steal my credit card number, whether in person or online, and then uses it fraudulently, I will know about the charge within seconds. A quick call to the credit card company will then resolve the problem within minutes and the charges will be reversed.

In the case of the Bank of America debit card, the message is not received until some hours later, usually in the middle of the night. That still provides plenty of time for me to call Bank of America’s Customer Service department in the morning to report the problem and to get the charge rescinded. Most credit card issuers expect the fraudulent use to be reported within 45 to 60 days. Obviously, reporting problems even earlier makes it easier to resolve the problem and increases the chances the perpetrators will be caught.

Again, it does seem ironic that using a credit card online today is safer than using the same card in a store.

Categories: Credit Cards

1 reply

  1. In the UK the credit card companies are quite good at spotting “unusual usage”.

    The good side of this is that some fraud is caught quickly. When a card I use only on the internet got used (fraudulently) in ATMs for topping up mobile phones, it was spotted and stopped.

    The bad side is you need to warn them if you are going to start using your card “unusually”. Being in a geographically smaller country, “going abroad” is probably more common than in the USA; therefore, if you don’t want your card to bounce when abroad – you need to remember to warn your card issuer before going!

    Having multiple credit cards for different types of usage is probably a good idea.


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