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It's tempting to save your credit card information with websites or in your browser. After all, it makes purchases faster, and saves you the trouble of hunting down your wallet and entering card information. But this convenience can come at a cost if it results in increased impulse shopping, unwanted purchases made by family members or, worse, fraud.
Protecting your card information is an important responsibility when you have a credit card, and these convenience features can potentially work against you. Read on to learn more about whether storing card information is a good idea, and what you can do to protect yourself.
What to Consider When Keeping Your Credit Card Information Online
Before you store your credit card information online, there are a few downsides to consider:
- Potential for fraud: While some websites and services claim to store your credit card information safely, the company that stores your data still may be vulnerable to a data breach. Even with security measures in place, storing your credit card information online will put you at increased risk of your card information being stolen and criminals using it for fraudulent purchases. Manually entering your card information when you make a purchase reduces the chance of it being compromised.
- Ease of spending: For many, it's easier to swipe a credit card than it is to part with cold hard cash, and the same is true for online shopping. When your credit card information is entered automatically, there's less of a barrier to prevent impulse purchases. It might sound silly, but the extra step of grabbing your wallet and manually entering your card details might be enough to stop at least some of those spontaneous "buy now" purchases.
- The kid factor: If you have young children, they may love to keep themselves entertained with your laptop, tablet or phone. If your payment information is stored in an app or website, you run the risk of young fingers making purchases, whether by accident or on purpose. Kids may be dextrous enough to buy a new game or rent a movie, but not mature enough to understand the cost associated with doing so. Parental controls are an option, but may be inconvenient and aren't foolproof. To avoid this possibility, you might consider removing stored payment information altogether.
How to Keep Your Credit Card Information Safe
While there's no absolute guarantee you can keep your credit card information secure, there are some measures you can take to help. They include:
- Use virtual credit cards. Your credit card issuer may be able to provide a virtual credit card, which is a temporary credit card you can use to make specific transactions (sometimes they're just one-time use, sometimes they can be used many times). While it's tied to your account, the purchase is not made using the number printed on your physical credit card. If a virtual card number is stolen in a breach, it may be useless if it has since expired or otherwise been deactivated. Ask your credit card issuer if they offer this feature.
- Try security tools. Again, no method is completely foolproof. But there are some security tactics you can use as a preventive measure, such as saving your credit card information in a browser such as Chrome rather than on individual websites that may be less trustworthy or more vulnerable to breach. You can also try a tool like LastPass, a password security and management program, which also offers a digital wallet to help keep your credit card information more secure online.
- Shop only on private Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks (like the one at your local coffee shop, for instance) can be easy targets for hackers looking to intercept your computer and steal sensitive information. If a hotspot has been compromised, your card data is at a higher risk of being stolen if you're connected to it when you make a purchase. Whenever you shop online, try to only do it on private, secure networks—ideally at home.
- Stick to secure websites. When you're shopping online, look for "https" or a lock icon at the beginning of the website's URL. Seeing "http" or "Not Secure" can indicate you're at higher risk. Secure websites use a higher level of digital security that can better protect you from hackers. Different web browsers may use varied language and symbols to indicate whether a website is secure, so be sure to understand what your browser is telling you.
What to Do if You Suspect Credit Card Fraud
If you think your credit card has been used fraudulently, rest assured that credit cards come with certain legal protections that debit cards don't. Federal law says you aren't responsible for any more than $50 of a fraudulent credit card purchase, and many issuers actually have $0 liability policies in place.
In other words, if your card information is stolen and used for unauthorized purchases, you typically won't be required to pay anything for them. However, you should take these steps if you're a credit card fraud victim to protect your identity and finances:
- Contact your credit card issuer. Let them know immediately that the card has been compromised. They will cancel the card and issue you a new one with different numbers. If you have automatic payments set up, be sure to update your payment information once you get your new card to avoid missing payments.
- Change your passwords. If your credit card information was stolen through a data breach, changing your password can help secure your other digital accounts, especially if you use the same passwords for multiple accounts.
- Check your bank account statements. Keep an eye out for additional fraudulent purchases that pop up on that or any other accounts.
- Monitor your credit. Be sure to look out for unauthorized activity such as accounts opened in your name without your consent. It's possible the credit card fraud was an isolated incident, but in some cases it's part of a larger identity theft scheme. Fraudsters may try to open other new financial accounts in your name, incur debt and never pay it off, which can harm your credit if left unaddressed.
- Consider a fraud alert. Putting a fraud alert on your credit report will ask creditors to authorize your identity before approving any new accounts. This helps prevent criminals from opening accounts in your name without your permission.
Start Monitoring Your Credit Now
Don't wait to become a fraud victim to start monitoring your credit. Signing up to monitor your credit preventatively can help you catch fraud and identity theft early. It will also help you track your credit over time and proactively address anything that causes it to decrease.