Is Your Credit Card Number Safe Online?

If the idea of using your credit card to shop online leaves you feeling a little uneasy, your concern is warranted: Identity theft is the No. 1 complaint among consumers, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with credit card fraud ranked the most popular method thieves use to snare victims.

While no Website can guarantee that your credit card number is safe from crooks, several services and technologies are making it more difficult to use stolen numbers.

One way credit card companies are protecting their cardholders is by requiring them to provide online merchants with additional information such as their mother’s maiden name. That way, even if a thief gets hold of a number, he or she can’t use it. The idea is to “make the cardholder feel comfortable that it is a secure transaction,” says Bruce Rutherford, vice president and senior business leader with MasterCard Worldwide.

With that in mind, MasterCard offers consumers its SecureCode service. Whenever MasterCard cardholders buy a product online, a window pops up on the screen asking them to enter a special password called a SecureCode. Once the consumer provides this information, the transaction is completed.

SecureCode must be offered by your card’s issuing bank and merchants must be signed up for consumers to benefit. Currently, there are more than 78,000 online merchants and more than 3,100 card-issuing banks worldwide that support the service, says Rutherford.

Visa USA offers its cardholders a similar capability. Verified by Visa lets consumers confirm their identities by entering a special password whenever they make a purchase. There are currently 100,000 Verified by Visa merchants and 10,000 card-issuing banks worldwide that support the service.

The number of Internet storefronts that support both the MasterCard and Visa services is growing. In a 2005 survey by electronic payment service provider CyberSource Corp., authentication services such as SecureCode and Verified by Visa were cited by online merchants as the fraud protection tools they were most likely to implement this year.

With Discover Card, carriers can protect their card numbers at all Internet merchants.

Discover Financial Services offers Secure Online Account Numbers, dummy credit card numbers that consumers can use when making purchases online. Consumers can create as many numbers as they want. Once a number is given to a particular merchant, it can only be used with that merchant. “The merchant sees this as a real Discover credit card number, because it is,” says Steve Furman, director of e-commerce for Discover. “But if that number were to get hacked off that server or stolen then it would not be good at any other merchant.”

To use the service, Discover cardholders simply download a small program that launches whenever they check out online. Simply click the”Fill Form” button, and a secure account number will be generated and automatically entered into the “Credit Card Number” field of the merchant’s checkout form.

While such services don’t guarantee that credit card theft won’t occur, they go a long way toward making it more difficult to use the Internet’s anonymity to promote fraud.

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