Online Payments And You
Most of us are fairly used to buying things online. Online shopping offers extraordinary convenience and freedom over their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
The traditional method
If you've use Amazon, you know the drill. While browsing the Internet you come across something amazing; you must have it! Oh, Amazon stocks it, and it's not actually so badly priced.
Great! You add it to your cart, click through the few pages it takes you to enter your address, your credit card information, and then seal the deal with a final “Confirm order.”
An unnoticed journey to normality
At this point we don't even bat an eye or give a second thought to the online ordering process. Often, the first thought you have when you find you have a want that needs filling, you turn to trusty Google and go looking for a product.
The product appears on numerous websites, and you browse through them to get an idea of the product's landscape, and eventually pick your favorite one. Done deal; from thought to bought in half an hour, and you didn't even need to get off of the loo – you used your cellphone.
Opening an online store allows creators to bring products to consumers with very little overhead – they just need a website where they previously may have required a physical presence, and an expensive one at that.
This benefits both the consumer and producer. The producer gets to sell their products quickly and easily, and the consumer can buy them just as quickly and easily. It's an outright win-win for both sides of the typicall buyer-seller model.
So what's the catch?
The catch is you. Between you and that little checkout button sits your credit card; a single entrypoint into the realm of online shopping.
How many times have you heard of someone posting a photo of their new, shiny credit card to the Internet for the world to see?
They just got their new card, great! Right up until they lose out on a couple hundred bucks when someone grabs a new Playstation on their tab. Whoops, I didn't know!
I didn't know
The ease of online shopping has created a lax atmosphere around a rather serious issue – the issue of your money, and hows its spent.
With the ever-decreasing use of cold-hard cash comes an increase in the use of plastic. Such a silly thing, really; a card with a chip in it holds your entire financial life.
One card to rule them all, one card to find them, one card to bring them all and in the darkness bind them – Sauron
Not really, but close enough I suppose. With the Lord of the Rings reference out of the way, once your card isn't yours anymore it's game-over, and your card is always at stake when buying online.
A deal gone wrong
Suppose that you find a new store, one that stocks a very specific item that you want.
It checks out; there are good reviews of the product, good reviews of the site, and overall seems solid. You order your product and go on your way.
Your phone beeps to let you know that the money has gone off into the ether to live a life of merriment and debauchery.
It beeps again, and again, and yet again. You suppose that your phone thinks you haven't heard it yet – why doesn't the damn thing just shut up already? I'm walking here!
But it keeps beeping; you get concerned and grab your phone, and it turns out your account has been sucked dry. WHAT?!
That website, one of many you've made payments with, just happened to be a bad egg and grab your details to siphon all of your cash.
You investigate, and see that all of the site's reviews are the same. They're generic and robotic – obviously fabricated by nefarious foes. You Google around for other mentions of the website and find that others have had difficulty, too. To add salt to the wound, the product doesn't even exist anymore.
I should have been more careful! Why did I succumb to yet another impulse buy, and in my frantic excitement knowingly turn a blind eye to something that did seem a little strange but you needed it.
I've been there; it sucks. I was fortunate in that I had used Paypal for the transaction and was able to recover my funds. Others are not so fortunate.
We've been scammed, and it feels really, really bad. Your heart sinks as you recheck your account balance thinking “What if?”
It's complicated. Depending on your payment method, you have a number of options.
With Paypal you can dispute transactions and get your money back if proven false, or if Paypal decides in your favor. Many times, a scammer won't put the effort in to fight their cause, and just let it slide. You get your money back and move on with things, except you're now a little more paranoid.
If you used your credit card as-is, it can be a bit of a more painful process. You'll need to contact your bank and notify them of the event, and they'll look into the issue. If you're lucky, you can get the charges reversed and recover all or most of your money.
Either way, it sucks. Nobody wants to through this, though it is a reality of the new-age online life we're moving into. Toddlers have tablets and Internet now; they're growing up with this stuff. This is their reality, and will form part of their life for long to come.
Throughout this whole ordeal we've been through a number of steps to get to the point where we were scammed, and at each point we made a concious decision to move forward and submit our funds to parties known or unknown.
You and only you are responsible for the security of your money. Sure, there are other factors that can help, but you clicked that button.
This prompts a dive into mechanisms of self-defense in this process. We can take a step back and walk through our thought-process. Learn from your mistakes! A mistake made but not acknowledged is a mistake to be made again.
Remember those strange reviews, and that online portal that might have looked a bit off. Remember your second-thoughts, and go through them to help your future-self avoid the same mistakes.
A proactive defense is a good defense
At the core of all of this lies the fact that we can take proactive action to greatly limit the scope and ability of the bad guys after your money.
For one, always be careful when directly submitting your credit card details. Make extra sure that the party is to be trusted, and that they're using secure methods of delivery! Security is everything here.
Things to look out for:
- Is the website secure? Is there a little green lock next to the URL, and does it look good when you click on it? The average scammer isn't going to care about this.
- Are they who you think they are? Make sure that it's actually Nike you're buying from, and not Nlke with an L instead of an I.
- Those product reviews; are they real? Do they look like they've been made by real people? Can you find reviews for the same product elsewhere of similar nature?
- Check for reviews of the website itself. Often, you will find reports that the website is not to be trusted. This is a big red flag – back away!
- Do you feel completely secure in making the transaction? This is the most important. Trust your intuition, and be extra extra careful when you think anything is even slightly strange.
- Of course, there are many other red flags, and I won't possibly be able to discuss them all here.
Where possible, get a middleman. Put something between you and the place that gets your money. This provides an important and often vital safety net in helping you stay safe.
What do I mean when I say “middleman?” We'll use Paypal (##insert your referral link on each instance of the word “Paypal”##) as a good example here. Despite the amount of flak it sometimes gets, it is a very useful protection mechanism for the consumer.
When paying with Paypal, you never give your payment details directly to the seller. They need to submit a payment request to Paypal, and you need to log into Paypal to authorise that request. They can't use your information to make another payment without your consent.
There exist many solutions like Paypal, but the really important bit is that you put something between yourself and the seller to protect you in the event that something goes wrong. They can usually help you recover your money.
Beyond the middleman
Now, if you're really serious about payment security, you can turn to a very specific service.
Privacy.com allows you to create virtual credit cards to use for online payments. These virtual cards are disposable and you control exactly how they can be used.
Want to get a new virtual card for a specific service? Go ahead, and then delete it when you're done with it. Even if it's a scam, you're safe from further harm.
With this, Privacy.com offers mobile applications to make this simple for you. You can create new cards on-demand, and use them as you wish.
The world of credit cards literally at your fingertips, and you've just put a thick steel wall between yourself and the world of online payments. Right at this moment, Privacy.com reports that they've blocked 65 million dollars of unwanted payments! That's a huge amount of money.
They're proactive so you don't have to be
How do they know? They pick up when a payment is attempted against a deleted or disabled card. It's that simple. They know when bad stuff happens, and help you prevent it.
Plus, it consistently garners excellent reviews. As a user myself, I can attest to the manner in which it allows me great flexibility, control, and security in my online payment life.
I really don't give much of a damn if someone tries to re-use my card, since that card is already deleted. Go ahead and try; you'll get nowhere.
Hah! We have the last laugh, and what a great laugh it is.
Now, go grab yourself a nice cup of java at your favorite spot. Personally, I recommend a nice-and-hot flat white with just enough sugar to open your tastebugs. Two shots of espresso and a whole lot of awesome.