Your Plastic is Safe in Cyberspace

           by Mark Grossman


Are you still afraid to use your credit card to shop for merchandize or services online? Don't be. Much as it's hard to believe, cyberspace is a place like any other, and many of the laws that protect you from mail, telephone and consumer fraud apply when you go online.

So why are so many people nervous about using their credit cards on the Internet? The great fear, it seems, is that some invisible hacker is going to "sniff" out your number and abuse it. Sure, it could happen. But MasterCard International's Director of Media Relations, Sean Healy, says that he doesn't know of any case where a hacker has intercepted a credit card number during an Internet transmission.

However, if you happen to be unlucky enough to be among the first victims of the wily hacker, you neednt worry. In 1975, Congress passed the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). Although not specifically designed for Internet-related credit card fraud, this law provides all the protection you need. It applies whether you make a purchase in a store, over the phone or over the Internet. It's one of those rare laws that really work in your favor.

If you follow FCBA's procedures, your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is limited to $50. If you look on the back of any credit card bill, you should see a full summary of FCBA and its procedures. Follow these procedures and your loss, if any, will be trivial. MasterCard will even waive the $50 if you report Internet fraud within a day of learning about it.

My advice: use your credit card every time you make a purchase over the Internet. Your risk of loss is far greater if you don't. If you buy from a company hundreds or thousands of miles from you, and the purchase goes sour for whatever reason, your credit card company may be the only remedy you have. If your merchandise fails to arrive or the merchant deals with you unfairly, you should write a letter to your credit card company. They will investigate and may reverse the charges if youve been scammed. Experience tells me that they are extremely pro-consumer. This is a remedy that you don't have if you pay by check or C.O.D.

In short, think of your credit card as consumer insurance. The economics of suing a geographically distant company are horrendous. It rarely makes sense to hire a faraway lawyer to pursue a lawsuit against a distant company that may just disappear without ever repaying you. So just use that plastic. It's safer than you think.


Mark Grossman is a Miami, Florida computer and technology lawyer. A cum laude graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., he has written many articles on computer law. If you would like to read other material by Mark Grossman or learn more about his law practice, you will find his Home Page at

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