Question: We have one main credit card that we always use and that lets us earn airline miles that we can use to travel. We have to get a new one every few months because it gets “compromised.” Is there something wrong with what we’re doing? Are there rules for credit cards about how to keep them clean?
Answer: Yes, and most of them involve limiting how many places can see your card information.
Many online stores and web browsers let you save your credit card information to make it easier for you to buy things in the future.
Even though these autofills save time, they also store your credit number in databases that you don’t control. If you don’t want to use this option and delete your saved cards from your browser and retail accounts, you’ll have less convenience but more security.
Two-factor authentication, which makes it harder to break into your retail accounts, is another option. You would have to enter a code that was sent to you by text, email, or an authentication app.
You can use virtual numbers online with some credit cards. If yours does, this is a good alternative to try. The store never sees your real credit card number, so it can’t get into a database that could be hacked.
When you shop in person, you can avoid giving out your credit card number by using mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay.
When you want to buy something, these apps turn your credit card information into a “token” that is sent to the store. Again, the store never sees or stores your real card information.
Another good thing to do is to stay away from sites and stores that aren’t safe. When shopping online, make sure that your browser’s address bar has a small lock symbol on the left and that the site’s address starts with “https” and not just “http.” You shouldn’t shop on a site that doesn’t have these basic safety features.
Be wary of stores that use old-fashioned magnetic card readers that you have to swipe instead of tapping or inserting your chipped card into. The information on a card’s magnetic stripe is much easier to copy than the information on its chip, so don’t swipe if you can help it.
Also, watch out for skimmers and shimmers, which are devices that thieves put on ATMs and gas pumps when no one is there to steal card information. These devices can be hard to find, so you might want to pay for gas inside the station and use ATMs inside banks.
You also shouldn’t do any financial transactions on public Wi-Fi, since most of the time these networks aren’t encrypted and can be easily broken into. Lastly, watch out for phishing attempts. This is when criminals pretend to be from a trusted source to get you to give them your credit card number or other sensitive personal information.
Even if you do everything right, criminals may still steal the information on your card. You are protected against fraudulent charges, so a stolen card is more of a hassle than a financial disaster.