Mobile payment apps are designed to free you from cash and credit cards by allowing you to digitally transfer funds to family, friends, or merchants. You link your bank account or credit card information to the app on your phone or tablet, and your connected card is used to pay when you tap, swipe, or scan the app through e-commerce sites, in-store at the register, or to transfer money to a person or business. These apps are widely-used by about 80% of U.S. adults and are used weekly. That percentage jumps to 94% for Millenials.
Pros: Vendors like PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, Cash App, and others are highly sensitive to payment security concerns, so they maintain robust controls to keep information safe. If you also employ mobile device security, these digital wallets can be safer than credit cards tucked into a traditional wallet or billfold.
Cons: Mobile payment technology that collects all a user’s financial data in one place seems too tempting for hackers to pass up. As widespread adoption has occurred, payment app scams are on the rise. For non-users, 42% say security concerns are the reason why they have not embraced payment apps.
EMV-ENABLED CREDIT CARDS
Also called “chip and PIN” or “chip and signature” cards, these smart credit cards are designed to be more secure than traditional cards that require only a user’s signature.
Pros: These cards have an integrated chip that creates a new authentication code for every transaction, so it adds an additional layer of payment security. Also, the cards can’t be “cloned,” which is a hacker’s way of stealing information from a traditional card’s magnetic strip and making a new card.
Cons: Even though many retailers have readers that can accept these cards, and federal law has motivated the shift by transferring payment fraud liability from the credit card issuer to the merchant processing the payment, not every restaurant, shop, or venue has the technology to read them. You can still use the cards by swiping and giving your signature, but you’ll miss out on the extra security the chips provide.
With online banking growing in popularity over the last decade, many people write only a few checks per year, and that may be a good thing. Banks are attempting to put more payment security controls in place, but check scams are still far too common.
Pros: For one-time payments (such as magazine subscriptions, charity donations, or monetary wedding gifts), checks can be a convenient payment method.
Cons: Checks not only feature your name and address but also your bank account and bank routing numbers. Worse, they give identity thieves an example of your signature. Because of this, you should send checks only to people or companies you trust, and regularly review your bank transactions to look for fraudulent check amounts.
The use of good old currency is starting to seem like a thing of the past. Even small transactions, like buying a newspaper or a cup of coffee, can be done with a swipe of a card or smartphone. But don’t ditch the paper money quite yet.
Pros: As easy as it is to swipe a card everywhere you go, security concerns will go along with you. That’s why it makes sense to pay with cash whenever possible, especially for smaller transactions. Cash carries zero risks of identity theft.
Cons: No one feels particularly safe carrying a large amount of cash, and if that money is lost or stolen, it’s gone — unlike credit or bank cards, which can be replaced and fraudulent charges disputed.
Electronic or physical gift cards are an easy way to show appreciation and provide recipients with a safe way to pay in store or online without exposing sensitive bank or credit card information. Just be sure you’re purchasing them directly from the retailer, as some third-party sites may be selling gift card scams. And never use a gift card to pay a bill over the phone — that is definitely a vishing scam.
Pros: A gift card is not connected to your bank or credit card account, so financial details are kept safe from scammers. Like cash, gift cards carry a very low risk of identity theft when they are unregistered.
Cons: Also like cash, you may not feel safe from thieves when carrying gift cards, especially since so many say “treat this card like cash” — if the gift card is lost or stolen, so is the money. Some gift cards do have registration options to give them more protection against theft or fraudulent charges, but then you are required to hand over your personal information as part of the registration process.
In general, every form of payment has its risks, and it can be tricky to keep payment security in mind when you’re running errands or trying to speed through online ordering. But, to increase protection and minimize the chances of identity theft, it pays to focus on security during any transaction.