Use Credit Cards for Safer eBay Purchases

The safest way to shop on eBay is to use a credit card whether through PayPal or direct through the seller’s merchant account. eBay Buyer Protection covers your entire purchase. In the rare instance that your purchase is not covered, most credit card companies will stand behind you if you encounter problems using your card online.

Know your credit card company’s policy

Before you start bidding, find out how your credit card company handles fraud claims. The major credit-card companies — American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa — have different policies regarding how they stand behind your online purchases:

  • American Express: American Express offers a “Fraud Protection Guarantee” for online shoppers. The company claims that there’s “no fine print and no deductible” if you need to rely on American Express to help you fight a fraudulent transaction.

  • Discover: Discover offers 100 percent fraud protection. The company offers a secure online account number, which generates a single-use card number each time you shop online so your account number is never transferred over the Internet.

  • MasterCard: The MasterCard Zero Liability program is offered if MasterCard is satisfied that your account is in good standing, you haven’t broadcast personal account information online frivolously, and you haven’t reported more than two “unauthorized events” in the past 12 months.

    It appears that MasterCard's policy is conditional and that they (not you) are the final judge when it comes to determining fraud, so be careful.

  • Visa: Visa likes the phrase zero liability, as well. Your liability for unauthorized transactions is $0. A new program, called Verified by Visa, lets you set up your own private password that you use with your Visa card any time you use it online at participating merchants.

Every once in a while, check your statement, visit your credit card company’s website, or call the credit-card company’s customer service department to verify its current fraud-protection policy for online purchases.

Never send your credit card information to anyone through e-mail. E-mail is the most insecure way to send information. As your e-mail makes its way from your computer to the recipient’s desktop, it makes a whole lot of micro-stops along the way. These stops may take just nanoseconds, but your information is open for reading or storing by outside parties at any stop along the journey.

Add a layer of protection with an online checkout service

Many eBay sellers use an independent online checkout service that allows them to process shipping information, combine purchases, give an exact shipping total, and receive credit card payments. If the seller uses such a service, you probably see a clickable link in the e-mail that’s sent to you to complete the transaction. The link leads you to an online checkout page.

When you come to the point in the checkout process where you must input your credit-card information, look for the following:

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  • Check the URL for an s: The URL (website address) may change from a prefix of http:// to https:// (the s stands for secure).

  • Look for a Security Certificate or SSL: You may also see the initials SSL in the website’s address or somewhere on the page. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer.

The preceding items indicate that the website uses security encryption methods. Translation? No one but you and the merchant can read or view your payment information.

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