The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we shop. And the new norm of social distancing, plastic shields and sanitized shopping carts makes avoiding brick-and-mortar stores more appealing than ever. Online shopping is no longer a convenience; it’s an act of survival.
“As the world continues its rapid shift to digital in the wake of COVID-19, more consumers are turning to online purchases with their credit cards,” says Brian Cole, head of product, North America at Visa.
But while online shopping may reduce your exposure to health risks, it can increase your risk of fraud and identity theft. Using your credit card online can offer rewards and consumer protection, but know how to protect your identity before making a purchase.
Read on to learn how to safely shop online and choose the best credit card for online shopping.
[Read: Best 0% APR Credit Cards.]
Can You Make Online Purchases With a Credit Card?
Digital shopping requires digital payments, so you can’t use cash to pay online.
Some online stores accept payments from services such as PayPal that connect to your bank account, but cards are the primary method of payment online. That means when you buy something online, you’ll most likely use a credit card or debit card, both of which are widely accepted.
How Can You Safely Use a Credit Card for Online Purchases?
You can make online purchases with a credit card, which can yield benefits through credit card rewards programs. But you should exercise caution.
“There are positives and negatives to online shopping with a credit card,” says Tiffany Welka, vice president, financial advisor and accredited wealth management advisor at VFG Associates in Livonia, Michigan. “The positive is that you may get perks for using your cards, such as points, miles or cash back,” while building your credit history if you pay your bill on time.
“The negative is that if you aren’t careful, you could begin to rack up credit card debt quickly,” she says. “If you don’t think that you are going to be able to pay your credit card bill before you start growing a balance, then stay away from this.”
The other risk of using a credit card for online shopping is the possibility of fraud or identity theft. Every time you send your personal information over a web connection, someone could steal your information.
The first step to safely using a credit card for online shopping is to only shop on reputable websites. Ensure that the URL starts with HTTPS rather than just HTTP, Cole says. The “s” at the end confirms it has a secure connection.
[Read: Best Store Credit Cards.]
Beyond verifying the security of the website itself, some credit cards offer an extra layer of protection against identity theft through virtual card numbers. These are unique one-time-use numbers used as a proxy for your card so you don’t put your own information at risk.
“Most credit card holders at some point have experienced fraudulent charges on their accounts due to the same identifying information being used with each card transaction,” says Gina DeCorla, senior analyst at Informa Financial Intelligence. “Virtual numbers help solve this problem by making identifying data dynamic, instead of static.”
Other ways to fight credit card fraud when shopping online:
— Set up transaction alerts.
— Check your credit card statements.
— Check your credit report.
Which Card Is Best for Online Shopping?
When choosing a credit card for online shopping, you should take into account its security features — such as transaction alerts and fraud protection — and its rewards options.
[Read: Best Grocery Credit Cards.]
“Look for a card that provides transaction controls and alerts from the card issuer’s mobile app,” Cole says. “Transaction controls give cardholders more peace of mind in the event their card is lost, stolen or they suspect suspicious activity.”
Some card issuers make it easier than others to set up alerts or deactivate a card if you suspect fraud.
“Find cards that do what you want them to do … (and) match your lifestyle,” Welka says. “If you need the extra cash, get a cash back card. If you like to travel, get a travel rewards card.”
Cards that could be a good fit for your online shopping needs offer rewards, zero-dollar fraud liability, online security features and no annual fee. See a few below:
— Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card. The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card gives you 3% cash back in the category of your choice on the first $2,500 you spend each quarter. There are six categories to choose from, including online shopping with popular merchants like Amazon, Nordstrom, Walmart, Best Buy and Apple.
— Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. If you frequently shop with Amazon, you can get above-average rewards with the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. Amazon Prime members get 5% back at Amazon and Whole Foods Market, without a limit on how much you spend.
— U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. You can earn 5% cash back on the first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases each quarter in two categories of your choice, including online shopping.