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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Credit cards and security issues faced by online shoppers

Credit Cards are a boon to online shoppers, but attention to safety is important, specially for college students

Shopping makes most people happy. As American novelist Gertrude Stein, said, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

What has changed is the way people shop.

Visiting brick and mortar stores and spending time wandering down different aisles in stores used to be the only way to shop with high customer satisfaction. However, today, more and more people prefer to shop from the comfort of their home. With the popularization of the Internet, virtual shopping is undeniably in vogue.  About 96% of Americans shop online, to save time and avoid crowds. According to a recent survey by America’s United Parcel Service and US marketing analytics company ComScore, online shoppers increased their online purchases from 47% to 48% to 51% during 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.

The driving force behind online shopping are the Millennials, who increased their online purchases from 51% to 54% from 2015 to 2016. Pew Research Institute found 8 in 10 Americans are online shoppers today.

In these spiraling shopping trends, the mode of payment is the credit card. American humorist Evan Esar, said, “In childhood, a library card takes you to exotic, faraway places; in adulthood, a credit card does.” According to the Federal Reserve consumer credit report, American consumers  tagged a $1 trillion credit card debt in mid-2017. Statista found that in the third quarter of 2018, there were 631 million Mastercard credit cards  used internationally (excluding the US), and 222 million Mastercard credit cards in the US. This is an increase of 131.6 million Mastercard credit cards in the world since 2012.

E-commerce and online shopping are so much a part of life today, it is inconceivable to function without a credit card. It is especially an infectious habit among college students. A student at the University of Oregon said, “When students see legitimate shopping activity from their friends on their news feeds, they are more inclined to trust the offer.”

Nevertheless, there is a dark side to the Internet, and seemingly legitimate purchases sometimes turn out to be deceitful attempts to steal personal information. This could happen when entering credit card information into false and insecure payment forms.

Experts say the fundamental way to keep payments safe is to use credit cards and avoid debit cards. Credit cards have stronger consumer protections against scams with liability limited to $50. Furthermore, some cards have zero-liability policies, and totally protect consumers from fraudulent transactions.

Experts also warn online shoppers to be mindful when entering information on a website. They advise shoppers to ensure the web address starts with https:// rather than http:// The ‘s’ at the end indicates the site uses an encryption system to protect user information. It is probably not 100% safe, but provide another layer of protection from criminals.

Online shopping requires being prudent and avoiding public computers. Web sites have a tendency to save login information, and people could unwittingly leave personal information intact for the next person using the computer to view. Even when successfully logged out, hackers can still get at usernames, passwords and credit card numbers by installing keylogger information that record keystrokes. Furthermore, taking time to create a unique password is time well invested, and one password should not be used across multiple accounts, which leaves room to access not just one account, but many.

The credit card itself offers information the user may not be aware of. The Bank Identification Number (BIN) comprising the first six digits on a credit card, uniquely identifies the institution that issued the card. The BIN was developed by the American National Standards Institute and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a means to protect merchants and consumers alike. This technology is another welcome layer of protection in an online shopping environment fraught with deception.

American TV personality, Kristin Cavallari, said, “I don’t shop online. I’m always scared to out my credit card on the Internet.”

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