As you do your shopping online, you "know" that the Internet is a dangerous place for your credit card. Your common sense tells you that it's always better to call the 800 number rather than send your credit card number over the Net. It turns out that what you "know" and your common sense are absolutely and positively wrong.
Understand that I'm not saying that the Internet is a perfectly safe place for your credit card. It's not. But neither is your waiter's or store clerk's hand. As your waiter walks away with your card, have you ever considered the possibility that he may he running it through his ma chine more than once. Your credit card is never perfectly safe. This is a relative safety, not absolute safety, issue though. Life is all about relative safety issues. If we were seeking absolute safety, we'd never let our kids out of the house.
The Internet has unfairly developed an unsavory reputation when it comes to credit cards. Yes, there is credit card fraud on the Net, but it's a big "so w1}.at?" There's credit card fraud everywhere. I've never understood why the same people who will call 1-800-Send-Me-Some Junk, read their credit card number to a minimum-wage order taker working for a company they've never heard of, located they don't know where, won't send their credit card number to a reputable store online. Sometimes the things that we do aren't rational.
It'll be our little secret, but have you ever had a store clerk hand you the carbon copy of your credit card charge, where upon you tore it into four perfectly neat little pieces and handed it back to her to dis card? There you stand-the human shredding machine. It's absurd when you think about it.
People who won't send their credit card number over the Net wear that fact like a badge of honor. It's as if they're the all-knowing ones, and those of us who transmit that magic number are the fools. It's a misplaced concern, and it does matter in the big picture. It matters be cause this phobia about credit cards and the Net hurts the growth of e commerce because credit cards are the fuel that feeds e-commerce. For all the talk about e-cash, online wallets, and smart cards, today's payment over the Net remains a story that's aU about plain old credit cards.
Here's the real bottom line for those of you who would rather wear a big diamond on your finger in a bad neighborhood than let your credit card number traverse the Net. No matter how much money a thief spends on your credit card-whether the thief is a store clerk who "forgot" to give you your card back or that hacker from your night mares who snatched your credit card number out of cyberspace-you lose $50 at worst.
In 1975, Congress passed the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). Al though it predates when I invented the Internet (I wanted to stake my claim here, too), it provides all the protection you need. It's a law that works. If you follow the FCBA's procedures, your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is limited to $50. Moreover, if you're a good customer, most banks routinely waive that $50.
You do have to follow the law's procedures to get its benefits. First, and most important, send your creditor a written billing error notice within 60 days of receiving the first bill that contained the error. If you look on the back of any credit card bill, you should see a full summary of the FCBA and its procedures.
Now that I've told you to feel free to use your credit card online, please don't interpret that like a 16-year-old who's been flipped the car keys by dad and then barrels down the road at 90 miles per hour. There are prudent steps you can take to help minimize the risk of online credit card fraud.
You can start by knowing your merchant. Have you heard of them?
Are they reputable? There is no magic answer here.
One thing you should look for before you send your card number over the Net is a secure server. A secure server will encrypt your num ber so that if a hacker were to intercept it, it would be gibberish. Usually, a website will loudly proclaim that you're in a secure server so that you'll feel comfortable using your credit card. If you have any doubt, you can look at the address bar on your browser. If it says "https" before the address instead of "http;" you can feel pretty good about being in a more secure environment.
So, go forth and use your credit card online this holiday season. I'm not promising a perfectly safe journey. There are dangers online, but look at the bright side of online shopping. Nobody will snatch your purse or pick your pocket.