Is it safe to use my credit card on the Internet? 

   Using your credit card to shop over the Internet is similar to using it to shop in regular stores, restaurants, or from mail-order catalogues. In any of these situations, a reasonable degree of caution will protect you from fraud, loss, or the invasion of your privacy. You would never give your credit card number over the telephone to a person or a company you didn't trust. Use the same judgement in your online shopping.

Many people contemplating shopping online are concerned that the private information they send to an online vendor, such as credit card numbers and other personal information, can be intercepted by a third party "listening" to the online transaction. So far, credit card number theft over the Internet has been extremely rare; in our research of major law-enforcement and consumer agencies, there was not one reported instance of this kind of credit card fraud. As online commerce picks up, however, it is possible that this type of theft will increase.

When you engage in an online transaction, your credit card number and other personal information is transferred to the vendor's secure server. It is possible that an imposter could impersonate the secure server and gather sensitive information that way. Also, a third party could intercept your sensitive information as it is transmitted to the secure server. Most secure servers use a kind of technology (called Secure Sockets Layer or SSL for short) that provides security in two ways: it verifies the identity of the secure site with a certificate, and it provides a secure connection to prevent people intercepting and misusing your information.

Keep an eye out for fraudulent sites which may look like the real thing but aren't. If you're connected to a site run by somebody dishonest, a secure connection won't protect you. Vendors using secure connections also prove their identities using a digital certificate issued by a certificate signer.

Here is an example of a secure page.

  • If you're using Netscape Navigator, you'll see a solid blue key (secure icon) at the bottom left of your screen.
  • Netscape Communicator users will see a padlock (secure icon) if they are looking at a secure page.
  • Microsoft Explorer users can tell if they are securely connected by looking for the padlock (IE secure icon) at the bottom right of the screen. If you click on the key (or padlock), your browser will show you the site's digital certificate, which lets you know who runs the website.