These days, it seems like there’s always a new data leak in the news, leading hackers to swipe your financial details, including your credit card number. From fraud and identity theft to data breaches and surveillance capitalism, our financial information faces a multitude of threats, some of which we can mitigate and some of which we cannot.
The good news is that using a credit card is actually a more brilliant move than shopping with your debit card. That’s because credit card companies offer more protection than most debit cards, not to mention you reduce the risk of thieves taking money from your checking or savings accounts.
Combined with thoughtful shopping, savvy internet savvy, and a few other good habits, you can use these tools to protect your financial data. Here are some of the best practices to keep in mind to maximize credit card security and Privacy.
10 ways to protect your credit card data
1. Determine your risk appetite
There’s often a tradeoff between security and convenience, so understanding how far you’re willing to go to protect your credit card will help you determine which steps are worth it for you. Maximum security requires a more significant investment of time on your part, so you’ll want to decide how much effort you’re willing to spend to keep your card secure.
If you’re determined to reduce the risk and hassle of fraud and the time, it takes to fix it as much as possible, entering an authorization code for every purchase and setting up custom alerts is your best option. If you don’t want to authorize every transaction or take the time to regularly review your statements, focus more on the automated services and features your card provider offers.
2. Periodically review account statements and transaction history.
While most credit card issuers won’t hold you responsible for fraudulent charges, you’ll need to pay attention to your spending history for charges that weren’t made with your permission. We recommend reviewing your credit card activity every three to four days to ensure erroneous charges are identified as soon as possible. If that’s too frequent for you, we recommend that you review your charges at least twice a month or billing cycle. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you have 60 days to alert your card issuer of fraudulent charges; If you notice charges beyond this window, your issuer may no longer be able to remove them, putting you at risk for these purchases.
3. Turn on purchase notifications and activity alerts.
There’s nothing better than checking your credit card activity line by line but push notifications to come close. Some credit cards allow you to turn on notifications and alerts based on your preferences. Wells Fargo, for example, allows users to receive text, email, or app alerts for ATM withdrawals, cash advances, or purchases made above a specified threshold. While this level of customization is not standard across all card issuers, some other banks and card providers offer similar options. Just make sure your contact information is up to date, so your bank doesn’t send activity alerts to the wrong cell phone or email address.
4. Take advantage of additional security features of your credit card
After notifications and alerts, do some research on the other security features your card offers. Remote lock and unlock, for example, allows you to “freeze” your card if you think it may have been lost or stolen to prevent fraudulent charges. Additionally, many banks now offer additional levels of account login protection, such as Face and Touch ID, to ensure that no one but you accesses your banking app.
5. Examine your card’s network security features
You can look beyond your card issuer or bank to keep your money safe. Card networks like Mastercard, Visa, and American Express offer additional security features, such as Mastercard Secure Code, which requires a verification code every time you make a purchase, and Visa Secure, which does the same for suspicious transactions.
6. Don’t save credit card information automatically with apps or browsers
Sure, storing your passwords and payment information in your browser can be convenient, but saving this information across browsers, apps, or websites puts you at a higher security risk. Not only are you increasing the number of entities you share this information with, but you’re also potentially exposing your information to a stranger if your device is lost or stolen. It’s best to enter your credit card information each time manually.
7. Use virtual card numbers to protect your information from merchants.
When shopping online, you can limit the number of access companies has to your data by using “virtual card numbers” or other services that protect your merchant data. Capital One, for example, offers virtual card numbers through its app’s virtual assistant, Eno. Every time you make a purchase, the app will generate a new card number for you to give to the merchant, who draws funds from your account but does not reveal your account information.
If your credit card doesn’t offer this capability, consider a third-party virtual card service like Privacy. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to hand over your account information to the app, but this may be a better option than handing it over to dozens of online providers.
8. Keep Privacy in mind when choosing a credit card.
9. Take advantage of opt-out options
Some credit card issuers and banks offer ways to opt-out of data sharing, either through online forms or phone numbers. Card networks like Visa and Mastercard also allow you to limit the extent to which they share your data, as do some stores, like Target. These services are another step in the right direction, but exemptions usually allow them to use and share your data.
10. Use one card for all online purchases
To keep your money and other credit accounts safe, limit the number of cards you use online. If possible, opt for one credit card for all your online purchases instead of using multiple cards. The fundamental tradeoff here is that you won’t be able to rack up rewards for every card if online purchases are your primary means of earning points or cashback. We recommend looking for a full cashback credit card to resolve this issue.
Frequently asked questions about credit card security and Privacy
How do credit card companies use my data?
Credit card companies use and share your information primarily for advertising and marketing purposes. This allows businesses to see what you’re buying and react accordingly, with tactics like running targeted ads based on your purchase history. Your data is also used for “everyday business purposes,” which generally means financial forecasting but can include a wide variety of other activities, such as product development and sales strategy.
Each credit card company has its own rules and regulations about customer data, so it’s essential to read and understand your issuer’s disclosure. For an example list of how your data is used and shared, the Wells Fargo Privacy Notice provides a simple and accessible explanation.
What do I do if my credit card information is stolen?
Even if you follow all security precautions, thieves can still access your credit card. If this happens, you should report the charges to your credit card issuer immediately to report any unauthorized purchases. Be prepared to provide them with personal information, including your legal name, address, and social security number. From there, your card issuer will likely cancel your current card, review and remove the fraudulent charges, and issue you a new card.
We also recommend checking any other credit accounts to make sure hackers don’t have access to additional payment methods. You can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of credit card fraud by keeping an eye on your credit card bills, using enhanced security tools, and following basic credit card privacy guidelines.
If someone has my credit card information, can they steal my identity?
Generally speaking, no, but it’s a bit more complicated. Identity theft occurs when a thief steals someone’s personal information and uses it to commit fraud. Credit card information theft is usually a consequence of identity theft.
If a thief only gains access to your credit card information, they cannot commit the same level of fraud as someone who commits identity theft. They may run up debt on your account and may gain access to your home address and credit card account information, but generally cannot access your login information or other personal details that would allow them to open new accounts in her name.
Is it safe to give credit card information over the phone?
When you give your credit card number over the phone, you have the same protections available to you as if you entered it online or in a store. The FCBA limits your personal liability for fraudulent charges to $50, no matter how your credit card was used.