Within the next few years, most new credit cards will contain an embedded EMV chip that uses high-level encryption to make in-person credit card purchases more secure. Countries that have already made the switch to EMV cards have found that it does indeed reduce fraud for in-store credit card purchases; unfortunately, they’ve also found that thieves simply turn their attention online, where they use stolen credit card numbers to purchase merchandise.
MasterCard and Visa have each introduced programs that offer an added layer of protection for Internet shopping with personal credit cards. MasterCard’s SecureCode program and the Verified by Visa program work in similar ways, with people creating a special authorization code that they enter when they’re making a purchase at a participating online merchant. The process is similar to entering a PIN number when you’re using an ATM.
You can sign up at the MasterCard’s SecureCode program through a link on the MasterCard website, which will direct you to the bank that issued your credit card. During signup, you’ll be asked to come up with a special identifier—your MasterCard SecureCode—and to create a “personal greeting” that will be displayed during the purchasing process. If you have several different MasterCards, you must register each one separately. For MasterCard, at least, the SecureCode applies to the entire account, so if you sign up for the SecureCode program make sure that your spouse or other cardholder knows both the code and the personal greeting.
At present, you can only sign up for the Verified by Visa program when you’re making a purchase at an online merchant that participates in the program. As with MasterCard, you’ll be asked to create both a password to be used during online transactions and a personal greeting.
The personal greeting is important because it is displayed during the purchasing process and lets you know that your transaction is actually going through the financial institution that issued your card. If you don’t see the personal greeting displayed during a Verified by Visa or a MasterCard SecureCode transaction, you should not enter your account information. It could be an indication that the site is not legitimate.
Merchants have to sign up for these programs (and it costs them money to do it), so not every online purchase you make will go through this process. When online merchants do participate, they will never see your special identifier code and/or your personal greeting, since this part of the transaction is actually completed at the credit card issuer’s site.
Since many merchants don’t participate in the Visa or in the MasterCard programs—and since you may decide that such programs are not for you—it’s good to be aware of some other ways that you can protect your credit card information and your identity during online purchases.
The FBI offers these suggestions: