How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online

Ryan Dube 05-03-2009

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 antivirus software of choice is AVG Anti-Virus. 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.

How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online avgmaincontrolcenter2


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 7 Essential Security Downloads You MUST Have Installed Read More . 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.

How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online malware


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.

How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online spywaretracker

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.

How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online webguard

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.

Another great add-on for Firefox that was reviewed by Dave here Completely Secure: 11 Must-Have Firefox Addons For Security Think about the browser you're using to view this article right now. Is it safe? Is it secure? You'd be surprised by those answers. Read More , is the NoScript app.  One of the most difficult aspects of locking down your browser from running Javascript, Java and other active scripts is that you do want to allow those scripts on some websites that you know are safe.  NoScript lets you open up scripting capabilities for those trusted domains, but blocks harmful scripts from running when you are visiting a brand new website that you aren’t sure you can trust. The warning pops up at the bottom of the screen, and you just click “options” to select whether or not to enable scripts for that site.


How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online scriptblock3

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.

How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online wotrates

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.

How to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online security21

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.

Related topics: Online Privacy, Online Shopping.

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  1. John
    April 1, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    AVG is free but you have to subscribe to trial(netflix or other) to get license.

  2. Ryan Dube
    March 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Mackenzie, thank you for providing some insight on the technology behind the SSL certificate. Very cool, and I learned something new - thanks!

  3. Ryan Dube
    March 6, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Marc - excellent point, one-use credit cards are definitely the single most secure way to shop online. In fact, you don't even need to use a bank, many drug stores or grocery stores actually sell mastercard/visa disposable credit cards in various increments ($10, $25, $50, $100, etc..) Excellent way to shop anonymously and securely. Thanks for the advice!

  4. richcasto
    March 6, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I agree with Marc about Bank of America "Shopsafe" feature - it takes the worry about online shopping!

  5. Mackenzie
    March 6, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    The lock is misleading. It does *not* necessarily mean the site is secure. It only means that the site has a potentially valid SSL certificate. I say "potentially valid" because the cert may have been revoked, but browsers don't check the revocation lists, so for all you know that certificate was compromised anyway. Firefox puts a light blue background behind the favicon in your address bar if it likes the SSL certificate as well.

    A valid SSL certificate means that there is encryption and yes the certificate belongs to the domain in your address bar (maybe, see above). That's all. It does nothing to verify that the site you're on is the site you think it is.

    There is a way for a site's relationship to a legal entity to be verified. It's called Extended Validation, or EV. It requires that a legal entity go to one of Verisign's lawyers and give lots of proof about who they are and what their business is. If this has been done, Firefox will display the legal entity's name along with the jurisdiction in which they are verified, on a green background. IE fills in the address bar with green. Check out PayPal for an example.

    If you personally typed in your bank's URL which you know is correct, the lack of a green bar doesn't really mean anything, but you should still watch for the lock and blue background to be sure a man-in-the-middle hasn't turned off SSL. If, however, you are directed to a URL via a link, confirming the identity of the humans behind the website is a good idea.

  6. Marc
    March 6, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Yes - but take it a step further. We have NO control over what happens to credit card info once we've given it to a vender. I use disposable Credit Card numbers whenever I shop online. These are unique credit card numbers that (a) can only be used by one vendor; and (b)- sometimes - can have a dollar and exp date date that you set. (a) means that if your card is stolen, it cannot be used by anyone other then the original vendor.

    Discover card has "Secure Online Account Numbers" which are generated by their custom flash application. The number generated has the same exp date as your real Discover card, a unique CVC code and no dollar limit. But it will only accept charges from the first vendor that uses it.

    My Bank of America MC and Visa cards offers "ShopSafe" which no only generates a unique number, but also user defined dollar limits and expiry date, for example, $50 and 2 months. I feel very comfortable using this when I'm purchasing something from an unknown company and I'm willing to risk the dollar limit I specify.

    Both of these services are easily accessible from my browser toolbar. Highly recommended!!!


  7. Dan
    March 5, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Good stuff, thanks.