Trust is a crucial factor when shopping online. In order to make a purchase, you must provide accurate information (billing address) and a mailing address for delivery. It’s a lot of information to leave on someone’s server for eternity. Moreover, you have to be confident that the company (and those who are sharing that information) have the knowledge and resources to keep it all safe. The reality of the situation tells us that nothing is invulnerable.
Not a day goes by without some company reporting a data breach of their customer’s data. Most often, the lost data consists of names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, date of birth, and credit card information. In almost every case, the data breach happened weeks or even months before the company informed you, far too late for you to do anything. Essentially, we cross our fingers and hope for the best when we shop online.
If this happens to you, you’ll likely get $8.52 worth of free credit monitoring for a year, backed by a company that’s already lost your information in the past (Equifax). YAY!
I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. We need to start protecting ourselves against constant data malpractice and mismanagement.
Disclaimer: Companies providing financial services adhere to U.S. and international banking laws and require truthful information. In order to open an account with them. DO NOT attempt to create an account with ANY financial services company using A pseudonym. It is likely that you will not pass the verification process if you have had previous issues with banking, have been on check systems, or have defrauded a financial institution. In such a case, scroll down to Gift Cards.
A virtual credit card provides an extra layer of security for online transactions. It is essentially giving one company your credit card information, however I believe it is preferable to trusting dozens of companies to keep your information forever. When you search “virtual credit cards” you will find a number of options, but I prefer Privacy.com.
You can create virtual cards on Privacy.com that can be used for one-time purchases, or cards with monthly spending limits. With its browser add-ons, you can create cards on the fly, close them when you’re done with them, or set them to expire after a single purchase. Privacy cards are wonderful because they will work with whatever billing address you give the merchant, so that you don’t even have to give them that (we’ll cover how you get a package later). A verified US checking account is required to use Privacy.com, or you can attach a debit or credit card. Privacy.com is PCI-DSS compliant.
Capitol One Eno
If you’re a Capitol One credit card customer they offer a similar service to Privacy.com called Eno. Like Privacy.com Eno allows you to create virtual card numbers to use online, lets you lock or delete cards on the fly, and with the browser extension lets you create new cards right from any check out page, and has many of the same features as Privacy.com. Eno works with U.S. Capitol One credit card customers only. Capital One is FDIC insured.
PayPal is the original e-commerce payment company designed to provide a layer of protection between you and an online merchant. PayPal works a little differently in that you connect your bank account or credit card to your account, and when checking out online you choose the PayPal option. They also offer a variety of other financial services including business accounts, and a debit card for your account. I’ve been a PayPal customer for years and have always been happy with the service. Back in the day when I was just starting out as a freelancer I lived out of my PayPal account.
Pro Tip: Although PayPal does request that you link a bank account or credit card to benefit from all the features, it is possible to have a PayPal account without it and still use it to make purchases, send money to family and friends, receive money, and request a debit card on the account that allows you to spend money from it.
You will still have to fund the account if you want to spend money through it. One way that still works is to just invoice yourself at a different email address. You will be connected as a customer or contact in your PayPal account, but not connected as a source of funding.
Creating a PayPal account is pretty easy, and you generally only need to have not screwed PayPal to qualify. PayPal is not FDIC insured, but uses FDIC insured banks to hold your funds.
By far the easiest and closest thing to e-commerce anonymity is the gift card. Gift cards spend like cash pretty much everywhere. Stores, restaurants, bars, and online. Some even let you withdraw cash from ATMs. They are great for one time purchases, not so much for subscription services but results vary. I’ve paid for a VPN service with a gift card in the past, and they charged it every month until it ran out of money. I keep at least one gift card around for those times when I don’t want to use any of the options above.
To be clear I’m not talking about reloadable debit cards which require adherence to U.S. banking laws, gift cards are purchased in already set amounts and when you’ve exhausted the funds on them, they’re dead.
Visa, MC, and Amex gift cards generally come in $25, $50, and $100 denominations, and you can find them at pretty much any drug store or retailer, usually where the dozens of other TGI Friday’s, XBOX, and iTunes gift cards are.
If you do purchase store/company specific gift cards they can only be used at that store. This can also come in handy when using services such as Uber, which, in my opinion, is extremely creepy with the amount of information they track even when you’re not using Uber. Uber gift cards are now a thing, so you can grab one to use when needed instead of giving Uber your credit card information.
All the above offer some measure of protection, and even anonymity online. While none are perfect solutions for every situation, having a few available in your arsenal to use as needed should provide you with more than enough options to choose from.