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Is It Smart To Use A ‘Masked’ Credit Card To Buy Stuff Online?

Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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If you’re like a lot of people, you sometimes get nervous about shopping online with your credit card. After all, you never really know who’s going to be looking at your personal information, which makes many of us feel funny about typing our account numbers into all the websites that require them these days.

To address these concerns, a Boston-based company called Abine has created a system that will “mask” your real credit card number from online companies when you buy things from them. Interested in how this arrangement works? Take a look at the information below for more details:

Hidden numbers, safer transactions

The basic idea behind Abine’s MaskMe system is that it hides your personal information from the merchants you’re buying things from online by entering temporary data into their websites while you’re shopping. This means that if you don’t trust the shop you’re buying from with your payment information, you don’t have to worry — the card number you’re using isn’t your real one, so it won’t be compromised in the event that the business gets hacked.

MaskMe works like this: You go online to set up an account with the service and provide them with your real name and credit card number. Then, when you go to make a purchase online, select the “add a new card” option at checkout.

You’ll then go to MaskMe, enter the amount of the purchase, and it will create a new credit card number that you can use to make your purchase — it will even automatically fill in the information on the merchant’s site. Then you can complete your transaction with the “masked” credit card number, just as you normally would.

» MORE: How to Dispute Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

Is MaskMe a credit card? Do I have to apply for it?

If you get MaskMe, you’re not getting a new credit — there’s no application process or credit check that you’re required to go through. According to the company’s website, it functions like a prepaid debit card that you purchase in the exact amount of the transaction you need to complete. But using the MaskMe service is much easier than buying a million prepaid cards — you can generate a new card number and buy your stuff within 30 seconds.

If you’re curious about how your credit card is charged for your stuff, that’s pretty straightforward, too. All of the “masked” purchases you make are billed through Abine, so the transactions will be listed on your credit card statement under the company’s name. So, for example, if you bought $37 in merchandise at Amazon using the MaskMe system, your statement would show a $37 charge from Abine instead. This means that if you use your credit card statement to sort your spending, using MaskMe might make that a little more complicated.

But do I really need this?

The answer to this question really depends on how much you worry about security when you’re shopping online.

If your credit card information is compromised, you’ll have to take a lot of steps to be sure you don’t end up feeling the effects of a hacking. You’ll need to call your credit card company, the three major credit bureaus, the merchant you shopped with, plus you’ll need to keep a close watch on your credit report. It’s a headache that could be avoided if you used MaskMe.

But remember that federal law states that the maximum you’ll ever be responsible for if your credit card information is stolen is $50. This means that MaskMe isn’t protecting you from financial ruin. Plus, the service costs $5 per month (although the company is waiving this fee through the holiday season), which means that you have to consider if the cost is worth the peace of mind you’ll be getting in return. Moreover, you might lose out on credit card bonus rewards. If you use a travel credit card to make a purchase on United.com, you won’t get any bonus rewards because your purchase will show up as Abine rather than United.

You should also consider how much you trust Abine — you’ll have to give it all of your real information when you sign up for MaskMe. While it’s true that you’ll be providing this personal data to only one company instead of many, for some people, this defeats the purpose of purchasing a credit card masking system in the first place.

The takeaway: If you’re very concerned about your credit card information being exposed when you shop online, the MaskMe service from Abine could be the answer for you. Just be sure you weigh the price of the service against the benefits you’ll get.