Use Credit Cards Online Safely

February 20, 2008

Shopping on the internet is growing every year as more people have discovered it. The sheer convenience of sitting at home, clicking your mouse and having your purchases dropped at your front door is hard to resist. You can also compare and buy hard-to-find items that otherwise would be almost impossible to buy locally.

To avoid having your credit card number exposed to possible identity fraud, you do need to take precautions.

Make sure the page you enter your credit card number on is encrypted. Look at the address bar at the top of your browser window and see that it starts with ‘https:‘ . That "S" stands for "secure". If you look at the very bottom of your brower window, you’ll also see a little yellow padlock icon. These are good signs that the page can safely send your cc number with encryption.

My favorite way to use a credit card online is to get a temporary number from my credit card company. I use my MBNA card which is now Bank of America. They have a feature called "Shopsafe". It’s super-easy to use.

When I’m at the check-out page at a web store, I open a new browser window and login to my BOA account. They have a link in there called "Use Shopsafe". When I click it, it pops up a small window where I can put a credit limit and expiration date. Then it randomly creates an account number with the limit I specified and the exp. date. It has that little 3 digit security code, too. That account number can never be used at a different store or have charges on it over my limit. I usually set my limit to $10 over what my payment will be and have it expire in 2 months. I then have the choice to cancel that number or renew it if I plan to shop at that site again (like Amazon!). No one online ever gets my REAL credit card number. This is really handy for a site that has a recurring charge. If you ever want to cancel, you can be sure they stop charging you by simply deleting that number you gave them.

Another option for shopping online and protecting your credit card number is to use Paypal. They will default you to paying from your savings account, but to get the protection your credit card company offers, I always use my credit card as the source of funding. It’s extra steps to change it, but it’s worth the hassel. I only use it when a webstore doesn’t take credit cards. Many small vendors just use the Paypal option.

Keep your scam radar on when you’re shopping online and don’t get into a big hurry entering your information. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. But now that you know how to be safe – go ahead and look for that great deal online.


Identity Theft and the US Mail

February 19, 2008

WOW.. Identity theft has hit the big time….

Today I got a letter from the US Postal Service address to "Resident" and the envelope said, "Identity theft Prevention Tips." Inside it was a nice letter from the Postmaster General and a brochure put out by the FTC about identity theft.

I’m guessing every household in the US is getting one of those this month. I really can’t recall getting anything like this before.

Identity theft is a hot topic in Washington now. New laws and protection for victims is being debated. It’s a very serious crime that our government is taking to heart. I know taxpayer dollars went into that mass mailing, but it’s a good thing because it’s still a small percentage of people go looking on the internet for identity theft prevention info. This way, everybody who opens their mail can read about how to protect themselves.

The US Postal Services are taking a hard line on this crime and promise to make and keep our mail secure.

Some of the ways you can help are to:

  • Get a mailbox with a lock
  • If you can’t get a locked mailbox, consider getting a PO Box for your sensitive mail like credit statements, mortgage payments, etc.
  • Mail payments with checks at a post office or USPS Mailbox – not in an unsecured area
  • Know when your monthly statements arrive and look for them in your mailbox – stealing them is one of the ways identity thieves get your personal information
  • Open all your mail regularly and be suspicious of something you didn’t order

Learning the signs of identity theft and how to prevent it are the first steps in keeping yourself safe from thieves. They’re out there and every 3 seconds a new identity is stolen. Don’t let the next one be yours.



Identity Theft or Identity Fraud?

February 4, 2008

The term ‘identity theft’ is thrown around a lot nowadays. It’s pretty much turned into a blanket definition for any type of electronic thievery or impersonation.

So what’s the difference between identity theft and identity fraud?

Identity fraud is usually easy to fix. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s very, very common. It happens when someone steals your credit or debit card and uses it to buy themselves all kinds of goodies on your tab.

How would someone get your credit card number?

Here’s a few ways:

  • Lose your credit card
  • Stolen wallet
  • Clerk has a skimmer to steal your number when you pay for something
  • Unsecure website where you purchased something online
  • Phishing email or phone call

To guard against credit card fraud, carefully check your monthly statements – every month. Even better, look at them online once a week. Any charges that you didn’t make indicate someone is using your card. Some thieves will just make small purchases to be sure your numbers work. Then they get serious and start buying big ticket items – lots of them. Most thieves will begin to buy things immediately – like within hours you could have an additional 15K charged on your card.

Many banks will call their card customers if suddenly a lot of unusual charges start coming in. They track your regular spending and flag something that looks unusual. This protects you AND the bank.

You’ll generally only be liable for the first $50 of fraudulent charges. Many banks now waive any liability so it doesn’t cost you anything – except time. Fixing it is no fun. Plus, you lose your nice secure feeling.

How is Identity Theft is different from Identity Fraud?

Identity theft is when a thief uses your personal information to open new lines of credit. Or even to get a job. They can also pretend to be you for medical identity theft. They get treatment and leave you responsible for paying. Ouch – that’s gonna take more than a band-aide to fix. You could even be pronounced dead but still be liable for the charges since you’re really alive.

You may not find out about identity theft for years if you don’t check your credit report regularly. Someone has given your name, social security number, date of birth and driver’s license number and used it to get phone service, loans, boats, cars, jobs – well, the list goes on and on. Illegal immigrants use stolen identities to start a life here and off they go pretending to be you.

Your identity can be sold many times over. Even if you clear it up once, it can happen again.

Actual identity theft is much harder to fix than identity fraud. You’ll be presumued guilty until you prove it wasn’t you who opened the new lines of credit. No matter how much proof you give, some creditors will continue to dog you – they just want to be paid and they don’t care if you’re innocent.

In the meantime, your credit is shot. If you were in the market for a house or new car, it will be impossible to get a good rate because your score has taken a dive. You look like a deadbeat.

But the good news is….

Lawmakers have passed legislation in the last few years to help you protect yourself. You can now get a truly free credit report each year from You can also put a fraud alert on your credit files that requests any new lines of credit be approved by you personally before being opened.

Since November 2007, you can put a freeze on your credit. This used to be available only to identity theft victims in many states. Not even you can open an account if your credit has been frozen.  This makes it the most secure way to protect yourself but it’s not free to freeze/thaw. It’s about $10 at each of the three credit bureaus each time you need to change it. Plus, it will take a week or two to complete.

Protect yourself from identity theft. It’s so much easier than fixing it afterwards. You can do your own identity theft protection or enroll with a company specializing in it. Compare identity theft protection plans.