Shopping online is fantastic. And online ordering, even if you’re choosing a local restaurant, has become critical during the pandemic. But paying online still has a lot of problems when it comes to privacy and security.
First, there is the risk of entering your credit card into yet another company’s system, and then never knowing if they’ll get hacked. If it happens, your card will be sold and distributed online. In theory, you’ll be notified, and your bank will cover the charges, but what if you never find out, or your bank decides they won’t cover the fraudulent charge, which can often happen with debit cards?
Second, since we buy online from so many vendors that we don’t know, there is the risk that the company you ordered from may unexpectedly charge you again, or in the case of a subscription, raise the price or make cancelling difficult, costing you money.
Third, you have to give each one of these companies your full name and address – even if you’re not getting anything delivered. It’s just impossible to be anonymous because the credit card company has to verify the name and address.
Online Payment Options
Of course, traditional credit cards aren’t the only way to pay. Many sites support PayPal, which can address the issue of sharing too much data if you’re not getting something delivered. The new Apple Credit Card also minimize or reduce the amount of personal data businesses and merchants get. Whether you use Apple Pay, or the Apple Credit card, your card information never reaches a business. Instead, in the case of the Apple credit card, a one-time card number is generated for a purchase and, if you’re using Apple Pay, a device-specific number is used for the purchase. Either way, you’re at a lower risk in case of a data breach.
But the bulk of online purchases still use traditional credit or debit cards, and these methods of payment leave us exposed to the three problems defined above.
But a relatively new solution addresses all three: Privacy.com
Privacy.com Review: Online Payments Improved
Privacy.com is an ACH payment solution (meaning it links directly to your bank account and funds are withdrawn immediately just like with a debit card) that gives you ‘virtual debiit cards’ you can use just like normal cards at nearly* everyplace where credit and debit cards are taken.
But while the experience of using a Privacy.com card is entirely familiar, the process of managing them is VERY different. This is where you find all the benefits.
One Card for Each Merchant
You don’t get a Privacy.com card when you sign up—you create them. And you can create them as you need them when you need them. Each card you create is usable for exactly one merchant and can never be used at any other merchant. For example, if you create a card to pay for your New York Times subscription, it will be declined if you try to pay for your Bloomberg subscription or at any other merchant in the world. Since each card is tied to just one merchant, the problem of data breaches is gone – no card can be re-used ever.
Spending Limits Offer More Security
For even more control, you can set spending limits on your Privacy.com cards on a monthly, yearly, or lifetime basis. This ensures that if you sign up for the NY Times for $14.95 a month, the card will decline the charge if the subscription suddenly raises to $49.95 a month.
Single Use Cards Make Shopping Safer
You can also create ‘burner’ cards that are only good for exactly one use and with a spending limit. So when you buy something from an online merchant you don’t think you’ll ever return to, you can easily pay and have zero risk for subsequent financial repercussions. If an online store looks shady, a single-use card ensures you won’t have any surprise charges.
With all of these features and flexibility, the risk of your credit card data sitting in a merchant database, waiting to be stolen and misused, or charged by the merchant in ways you didn’t authorize, is eliminated.
Privacy.com has solved the problem of too much data-sharing. They let you lie to merchants about your name and address. They have no effect at all on the card being approved. This means if you don’t have to provide a delivery address, the merchant doesn’t have to know anything about you. Great for local purchases, and even deliveries that can be picked up from another delivery location like a UPS Store Box or a designated location used when traveling.
It’s Even Better Than Free
Using privacy.com is completely free. Sounds too good to be true but they state that they make money from the interchange between your checking account and merchant accounts, which is how they’re able to provide the service to you for free. They aren’t selling your financial info or transaction data.
However, because you’re completing purchases through your checking account, you may not be getting any rewards tied to your credit or debit card. As a result, Privacy.com has built its own cashback rewards program that offers 1% cashback on all purchases and additional cashback for select purchases. This feature is available to Pro and Team users (we’ll explain tiers later).
Cashback essentially works like credit. It’s accumulated in your privacy account and available the 10th of the following month. It’s applied automatically on your next privacy purchase but there are certain limits as to which merchants the cashback can be applied to. According to Privacy.com’s FAQ, this includes international merchants, money transfer companies, and streetwear merchants such as Adidas, Nike, Footlocker, and others.
Privacy.com has three tiers available—Personal, Pro, and Teams. Here’s a quick visual breakdown.
Personal Tier (Free)
Personal lets you do everything we’ve described so far with Privacy.com, except participate in the cashback program. You can create 12 cards per month, leverage merchant-specific or single use cards (with or without spending limits), and you can even use Privacy.com’s browser extension that auto fills card numbers for you. If you’ve never used this service before, start here – it’s free and quite simple.
Pro membership is for a user who wants a little more privacy and is likely to use Privacy.com much more often. You can create up to 36 cards per month, enroll in the cashback program, and you can hide your transaction data and mask your purchases. Privacy.com offers a small list of ‘merchants’ to choose from that shows up on your statements instead of the actual merchant you’ve made a purchase from.
A teams membership is designed for businesses, or perhaps families that want to share a single Privacy.com account. You can create up to 60 cards a month, and set transaction limits for your business. Privacy.com is also planning on rolling out multi-user support in the near future.
Life with Privacy.com
Using privacy.com does require a change from your current credit card habits. You have to create or lookup your card (for a specific merchant) every time you want to use one or install their browser extension for a quick auto-fill when you’re making a purchase. This is relatively fast and easy, but it’s a step that may bother some or take some getting used to.
On either desktop or mobile, you can review past charges, change your spending rules or even cancel or pause any existing card. It’s worth noting that having the say over when your subscription is over (or at least the charges), vs fighting companies that make cancellation difficult or impossible, is perhaps the very best feature of Privacy.com.
Privacy.com has limits on overall spending and the number of cards you can create on a per-account basis. This is to reduce consumer fraud and ensure no one is taking advantage of rewards programs or new account bonuses by signing up for ‘new’ accounts using merchant cards.
However, Privacy.com encourages anyone who runs into any issues to contact their support team directly. Because they deal with issues on an account-by-account basis, you’re likely to resolve your problem if you feel like any limit placed on your account was done in error.
Having personally used Privacy.com cards for nearly two years, our team can recommend the service highly. The company uses Plaid to connect to your bank account – which means they never get access to your bank login credentials. Once you get used to creating and managing cards, it’s a breeze.
Using it means you’re immune to e-commerce and other data breaches, and you can protect your identity easily and as fully as you wish. We’re jealous we didn’t get their URL, but we really like Privacy.com.