How to Order Items Online and Not Share Your Primary Account Information

By Ryan C. Williams

Purchasing merchandise online is incredibly easy, but you must protect yourself and your personal information. Here are some alternatives to using your own bank account or card on a shopping site:

  • Use a one-time-use credit card number for online purchases. This comes from your bank, has a different number than your actual account number, and is good for the single transaction. This prevents you from exposing your credit card number online or through malware you may not know exists on your computer.

  • Use a stored value card. This is like a prepaid phone card. You purchase the card with a certain dollar amount and each time you use it, the purchase amount is subtracted from the balance. For example, you could buy an iTunes card and use it for your iTunes purchases, or you could buy a Visa prepaid card and use it for everything else.

  • Use an online payment service. Through this service, you can set up an account and make purchases drawing from that account. For example, PayPal is one of the most popular and trusted online payment services.

Follow these guidelines to protect your accounts when you’re shopping online:

  • Use the latest Internet browser. The browser allows you to navigate the Internet and provides encryption, which scrambles data sent to a server to protect it. When you use the most recent browser version, you’re also using the latest encryption version.

  • Use only one credit card (or a debit card that’s not attached to your primary savings or checking account) to make purchases on the Internet. This way, you can track your purchases and activity on the card more easily. This is a good way to keep a record of all your Internet transactions to help ensure accuracy of your card’s charges.

    If the card is compromised, you can cancel it and get a new one. These days, online sites request the security code to complete the transaction, just as it is for phone orders. Merchants ask for the security code to help protect them from fraudulent charges, and the code also helps protect you because the identity thief has to get the code to complete the transaction.

  • Don’t give your password or ID online unless you know who you’re dealing with, even if your Internet service provider (ISP) asks for it via e-mail. This request is a scam and is used by identity thieves to collect personal information.

  • Don’t store your credit card online with a service. It’s awfully convenient to store a credit card or two on Amazon or iTunes to facilitate quick purchasing. And the services want you to do it — that’s why they make it so easy! Just click the button and it’s yours!

    But that means that anybody with access to your account can just as easily get the information (and get the product shipped to them, of course). If you’re really concerned about keeping this information safe, refuse to let these services store any credit card information.

    This policy makes online shopping a little more inconvenient, and you’ll have to type in that information every single time, but the added security and peace of mind could be worth it to you.

    This advice can be a lifesaver if you have children in the house. If you don’t store a credit card, you don’t have to worry about games with in-app purchases racking up huge bills on your credit card.

  • Never include any sensitive information in an e-mail message. Websites go to great lengths to secure information entered into their web forms. That security won’t make it to e-mail messages. You should never write out a credit card number and three-digit security code in an e-mail message and then send it to somebody.

    That action means that both you and the recipient have a copy of the e-mail with this information, and you’re twice as likely to see that information be hacked. Furthermore, somebody could possibly intercept that e-mail (not common, but it has happened) and get your information that way. Sending sensitive information via e-mail is never a good idea. Use a secure web form instead.

    By the way, that suggestion to never send information in an e-mail applies to Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, or just about anything else except for happy cat photos. Everybody loves happy cat photos.