Secure your credit card – virtually and realistically

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By reading all this information about massive data leaks  in major retail chains and ubiquitous online scams , you may start to wonder if it’s a really good idea to use credit cards at all. Yes of course! After all, they’re safer than carrying a stuffed wallet, and you don’t have any alternatives when shopping online – be it a new smartphone, app, or even a car . Thus, bank cards are good, despite their security concerns. You just need to make sure that your „virtual wallet” is not conducive to theft.

Choose the correct card

There is no solution in the credit card market that would satisfy all customers. There is AmEx, MasterCard, Visa, UnionPay and many local payment systems. There are credit and debit cards that vary greatly from market to market. You can use two, three or more cards for different occasions – each comes with its own set of protective measures. Credit cards tend to be better protected on many levels. Banks use stricter security procedures when checking credit card transactions. In many countries, credit card payments are insured and fraudulent transactions never happen to prudent cardholders. Moreover, criminals in some countries simply avoid credit cards as they carry a higher risk of being prosecuted.

Credit cards tend to be better protected on many levels.

When choosing a payment system, take into account the planned use of the card. There are many „global” systems, but only MasterCard and Visa are currently operating in almost every country and have small areas that they do not cover (the so-called white spots). For Europeans or people who travel frequently across Europe, MasterCard will most likely be the best choice as some ATMs in Europe only accept this type of card. A notable exception is China (due to strict local regulations, UnionPay is the best option for China) and Olympic cities (official venues only accept Visa during the Olympic Games). More importantly, MC and Visa are at the forefront of technology and security and can enforce security solutions across the industry.

First, you will certainly focus on the conditions of using the card – its interest rate, fees, etc., but you should also find out about the security measures offered. On the relevant banking page, see the „Safety Tips” section. There you will find not only general advice such as „don’t give your card to strangers”, but also a list of available security tools provided by this bank to its customers, for example. Now, let me list some useful security tools that are worth paying attention to.

Tools to increase card security

  • Chip.  So-called chip cards (or more officially: EMV cards) are typical of European banks, but are already appearing in the United States, Canada and several other regions. In addition to the magnetic stripe, they are equipped with a chip that provides much better protection and prevents most attempts to steal card data in order to clone them (ATM skimmers). Chip cards are still compatible with the old magnetic readers, although MasterCard and Visa want these cards to become mandatory at the end of 2015. Payment system owners warn that, starting in 2016, they will not compensate fraudulent payments made with non-EMV cards.
  • Chip and PIN.  While the chip provides a modern and more secure way for a counterparty or bank to read the card, there is still a need to authenticate the cardholder. In the case of older cards, a signature is required, which, however, is not always checked by the buyer and is basically easy to forge. Another way is to enter a 4-digit PIN code with every purchase, just like at an ATM. It takes the same time as signing up and is much more secure.
  • Change the PIN code.  Very easy and useful, but still not a standard option; allows the customer to change the predefined PIN to one that is easier to remember. In addition, in some banks it allows you to avoid re-issuing your card when you forget your PIN code. But beware – try not to use easy-to-guess PIN codes, such as date of birth or four consecutive numbers.
  • Card with a photo.  A simple and effective measure to prevent the use of a stolen card in most stores – includes a photo of the card owner.
  • Instant notification.  Usually via SMS. This easy feature puts you in constant control of your account withdrawals. An SMS with the exact description of the transaction and the amount arrives in seconds after the money is withdrawn from your account, which helps you spot unwanted withdrawals as well as errors in your statements. A quick reaction significantly facilitates the resolution of the disputed situation.
  • 3D Secure.  This feature increases the security of internet transactions. Each company gives it its own name (Verified from Visa, MasterCard SecureCode, J / Secure, AmEx SafeKey, etc.), but the idea is the same everywhere – the bank and the payment system verify every online payment with you. A typical scheme has two steps. First: you enter your credit card details on the counterparty’s website (or on their payment processor’s website), you are redirected to a special website of your  bank, where you confirm the transaction with a special password. Sometimes it is a static password (which is not so secure); in the case of these newer solutions, it is a one-time password sent via SMS (which is very secure and prevents phishing). This feature is especially recommended for any card that you will later use online.
  • Virtual cards.  Another online anti-fraud measure, the virtual card is only used for online purchases as it has no physical equivalent. It can be set up quickly using online banking. It can be a second card linked to the first or a separate card. In the first case, it is valid for one purchase only, and then it is blocked. In the second situation, the card is managed via online banking to ensure security and convenience. It is possible to set a spending limit (daily, monthly, total), regularly replace cards (monthly, weekly or even daily – if necessary), and keep the card balance even at zero (you will have to manually increase before each purchase).
  • NFC. Near Field Communication is not exactly a security measure, it is better known under company names (MC PayPass, Visa PayWave). It is a wireless technology that enables the exchange of information by putting two devices together for a short time. The NFC chip is very small and can be implemented in the card alongside the usual magnetic strip and EMV chip. To pay with NFC, you need to touch the terminal with your card; it may even run through your wallet. This increases your safety as there is no need to hold it in your hand or even show it. The chances of you forgetting it or putting it in the wrong place are lower. However, the NFC solution in the banking sphere is relatively new, and since it is a wireless technology (albeit with a very small range of a few centimeters), it may be vulnerable to as yet unknown scenarios of exploiting this fact. For this reason, we suggest using NFC cards only for small payments, where fast payment is most useful: public transport, gas station, fast food, parking, etc.

Simple security rules

So you have chosen your bank and card and have successfully used all possible security measures. By using a card with chip and PIN, 3D protection and SMS notifications, you greatly increase the security of your money when paying online and in real life, but this protection is only effective if you follow the following simple security rules:

Do not give your card to your child or partner. If necessary, make them your own cards

  • Don’t give your card to anyone . It seems obvious, and in fact it is sometimes difficult to obey. Maybe you give your card to a waiter in a restaurant to use in the back room, or lend it to someone close to you or to a teenage child. To avoid possible abuse, insist that the card is used within your sight, e.g. take the waiter to the terminal. This is especially important when you are using your card abroad. If you want to use your credit cards with your family, you can get additional credit cards for your children and your spouse.
  • Don’t use your cards in dangerous places. The greatest threat is street ATMs and those in less frequented public places. Then the risk of falling victim to skimming increases – attempts to register your credit card details and PIN to create a duplicate. You may be interested in the possibility of limiting the use of the card in very small stores and other places with outdated equipment.
  • Never say your PIN.  Nobody has the right to ask you about him – no exceptions. Don’t write it down on a piece of paper. If you are worried that you will forget it, use a special password manager on your smartphone (see our overview of applications for iOS  and Android devices ). When entering your PIN at an ATM or POS terminal, cover the keyboard with your other hand. Don’t let anyone stand too close and watch you. If you suspect that your PIN has been stolen, please report it to your bank immediately.
  • Report any problem.  In case of any problems – from a lost card to unexpected charges – report them to your bank immediately. Time plays a crucial role here as fraudsters try to use the stolen card as quickly as possible.
  • Please make sure your online payment is secure . In short, your computer should be malware-free, your network secured and your connection encrypted. In addition, you need to make sure that you are connected to the correct store or bank server. This is difficult to ensure on your own; but you can use a simple solution that will do it automatically for you. 
  • Avoid phishing . This is a very popular tactic for criminals to send mass e-mails that look like they come from a large bank (eg PKO), an online store (Merlin) or an online service provider (Apple). Most often, they contain information that you need to confirm your account, check suspicious withdrawals or confirm expensive shipping. After clicking on the link, you will be taken to a fake bank / shop / supplier’s website and asked to enter your password or credit card details. To avoid this risk, never click on links in such messages. If you are concerned about the security of your account, open the appropriate website manually (icloud.com or amazon.com) and log in to your account there. Don’t click on links. No and that’s it.