There are few things in the world that feel quite as terrible as having your credit cards stolen. It’s bad enough to have them stolen due to your own carelessness – like leaving the car door unlocked with your wallet sitting in plain view on the seat. But when your credit card information gets stolen online, it’s a whole different story.
The following are a few simple steps how to keep your credit cards safe when shopping online.
Secure Your Computer
The last thing you should ever do is shop online with a computer that’s riddled with spyware or keylogging software. Some of these viruses and malicious software applications look specifically for transmitted credit card information, so if you buy items with your credit card on a computer that you’re not certain is free of viruses or spyware, you will be placing your credit card information at risk.
The best option is to only shop online using your own computer, and before doing so, take the time to clean up and secure your PC using the latest antivirus and spyware removal tools.
MakeUseOf’s preferred free antivirus softare of choice is AVG Anti-Virus. Check out Mark’s review of AVG here. Many people have claimed that even the free version of AVG detected viruses that Norton missed. Aside from the fact that it’s a great anti-virus program, the key features that specifically protect your credit card information include the fact that it removes malicious tracking cookies from your browser, and it will alert you if any search results contain unsafe websites. Of course, it also has a very cool front end too.
Once you’ve installed the anti-virus software and cleaned up any of the lingering viruses you’ve got on your PC, the next step is to wipe out malicious adware and spyware that’s lying dormant, just waiting for you to start transmitting 16-digit credit card numbers.
To accomplish this task, there are a number of additional software apps that you should download and install from Aibek’s list of 7 Security Tools You Absolutely Must Have. For starters, to protect your PC, the best apps are Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and Spyware Terminator. If you don’t already have these two applications, install them and run them right now before setting another foot in any online store.
Even if you are very careful online, you’re bound to occasionally end up with infected files, such as the ones Malwarebytes found on my own laptop.
You never know which of these infections could put your credit card transaction at risk. The Spyware Terminator is equally effective at finding and removing spyware from your system.
Think about it, how comfortable would you feel typing your 16 digit credit card number and 4 digit expiration date into the online form if you knew that there was a “Computer Monitor Keylogger” running in the background on your computer? Don’t take any risks, install these software apps and clean up your PC.
Secure Your Browser
Once you know your computer is clean of any malicious software, the next level of security that you need to enable is your browser. There are many different browsers to consider, but for the sake of this article I’ll consider the two most popular, Internet Explorer and Firefox. If you’ve already installed Spyware Terminator above, then you’ve likely discovered the Web Security Guard add-on in both Internet Explorer and Firefox, which gets installed automatically.
When you’re shopping on any website and you want to make a purchase, you simply click on the Web Security Guard button in the Crawler toolbar, and you’re alerted as to whether the site is reported safe or not.
When you click to “view website info,” the application provides a full report of the source server’s IP and geographic location (city/state) as well as the server visitor load, so that you know you’re not dealing with some fly-by-night operation.
At first, as you visit your usual websites, you’ll need to “allow” scripting on those sites. But after a while, you’ll completely forget this add-on is running in the background until you land on a malicious website and it saves you from a script installing anything on your PC that can place your online financial transactions at risk.
Another great security add-on from Aibek’s list of 7 security tools is WOT. WOT stands for “Web of Trust,” and it’s available for either FireFox or Internet Explorer. This is probably one of the best add-ons that you can use to be sure that your credit card information is safe, because the ratings at WOT are based on trustworthiness and reputation of a website. Obviously, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to offer your credit card information to a business that most people rate as untrustworthy.
Ratings are pretty straightforward, with green as very trustworthy, orange as unsatisfactory, and red as poor or very poor reputation.
Use Common Sense When Shopping Online
So you’ve cleaned up your computer, you’ve installed extra security through browser add-ons, what else can you do to keep your credit card information safe online? Simple – use common sense. When you’re looking for products to buy online, always make sure that there’s a phone number or some other method to contact someone from the company. Never provide your credit card information through an anonymous online form that offers you no way to interact with a real person.
Additionally, all browsers are configured these days with a notification that you’re on a secure website, meaning the transmitted data is encrypted so that nothing in the “middle” can view the data. You know that the connection is secure when you see the “lock” icon in the lower bar of your browser.
The examples shown above are Internet Explorer on the left and Firefox on the right. In both cases you can see the small padlock appear whenever your connection is secure. Never enter your credit card information into a website unless that padlock icon is at the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, you’ll be placing your credit card number at risk of getting intercepted as the transmission bounces from server to server through the Internet.
Remember, when it comes to the security of your credit card information online, there’s no such thing as too much security. Make use of all of the tools that are at your disposal and you can guarantee that your online shopping experience will be both fun and secure.
Do you have any methods you use to keep your credit card information safe when you shop online? Share your favorite applications or techniques in the comments section below.