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During this year’s Christmas shopping season, I made some large in-person transactions at the same time as my wife made an online transaction, and my credit card was suspended by the issuing bank for potential fraudulent activity. This happens relatively often, whenever someone’s spending patterns are flagged by the neural-network based automated fraud detection used by all the major credit card issuers. This is not an uncommon perception. However, the perception just isn’t true.
This is actually probably what the credit card company in my experience meant — not that the transactions are more dangerous, but that fraudsters often use stolen cards online. Hackers stealing credit card information online often steal entire databases. They don’t steal your credit card while you’re buying something online — they break into the online store and steal everybody’s card. In many ways, it’s a lot more risky to make non-cash payments in person! With a debit card, they have the opportunity to watch PINs being typed. Some people — usually those of us who remember the days before debit cards — eschew all these fancy online and electronic forms of payment and instead stick to good old fashioned checks. After all, no one can possibly steal those!
They’re paper, and have your signature on them. This is the ultimate in perception differing from reality — it’s hard to imagine a less secure way to make a payment than a paper check. First of all, there’s the ease of committing fraud with checks. Order up a whole book of checks with your information and account numbers on them.
No ID is required to order checkbooks online. They can then spend these checks anywhere, and the bank will process them — you probably won’t find out until your account is empty and you start getting NSF notices. Remove the amount and recipient from the check and write it out to themselves instead. This is a bigger problem for institutional checks, which are often printed on a laser printer.