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Credit card safety on the Web: how to judge whether a site is secure

by Barbara Marquand

You want to buy a one-of-a-kind item on a little-known company's website, and you wonder if it's safe to type in your credit card number.

Your hesitation might be warranted, especially when you're using your best credit cards. Although generally it's safe to trust major online retailers, it's a good idea to do some preliminary research on an online company with which you've never done business. How can you tell if the website is safe for your credit cards?

Avoiding Credit Card Fraud Online

• Look for clues on your computer screen

After you move to the order page where you type in your credit card number, there should be an "s" after "http" in the URL. That indicates that the site uses encryption technology, which scrambles information, such as your credit card number, to protect it from hackers as it's transferred from your computer to the online retailer's computer system. Other clues, says the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, include a closed padlock or an unbroken key on your screen.

• Is the business real?

Anybody can create a website, so make sure the business is legitimate. Find the company's address and phone number, and call the merchant. A site that provides no physical address or phone number should raise a red flag. Do a search on the Internet about the business and see what turns up.

Get Security Details for Online Credit Card Use

• Look for seals of approval

Check to see if the business is a member of organizations that set guidelines and provide seals of approval for Internet safety, such as the Better Business Bureau's BBBOnline, VeriSign, or TRUSTe.

• Read the privacy and security policy

Every reputable online business provides information about how it processes orders, says the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Those details are in a privacy or security policy. Make sure the business displays one or both of those documents, and check to see what they say.

After you feel like you can trust the company, start with a small purchase first, and check your credit card statement frequently to spot any unauthorized charges. Of course, anytime you spot charges you didn't make on credit card statements, call your credit card companies immediately to report them.

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Published 06/13/11 (Modified 01/25/13)

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