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How Safe Is it to Apply for Credit Cards Online?

by: Debbie Dragon

There's a lot of talk about the safety (or lack of safety) when purchasing items with your credit card online – but what about the application process used to get the card in the first place? How safe is it to provide your personal details through an online credit card application?

Secure e-commerce technology is actually considered safer than mailing your paper application through the United States Postal Service! Think about it for a minute: when you place something into the mail, you probably drop it in your mailbox and carry on with your day. Maybe you drop it in a big blue mailbox on the corner of the busy intersection you walk by on your way to work each morning. How difficult would it be for someone to stick their hand in and pull the envelope out of a home mailbox? Not difficult at all. It would be a little harder to take mail from the public mailboxes, but it's still possible by an enterprising criminal!

If your mail makes it into the post office, it is then handled by a number of postal workers. True, there are cameras and laws regarding how the mail is handled – but we know that there are dishonest people in the world and it's possible that one may be working in your local post office. Slipping a piece of mail into their pocket would not be completely out of the question – and it just might be your credit card application, containing all of your personal data.

The security used for online credit card applications include:

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Technology: This encrypts the information sent between your computer and the bank's computer via the internet. So the personal information you type into an online credit card application form is sent in a jumbled mess that the bank computer knows how to unjumble and put back together for human readers to understand. If someone tried to intercept the transmission of your credit card application, they would receive the encrypted, jumbled version.

What Is Encryption?

For math-lovers out there, encryption is actually a mathematical process that camoflouges the information to 128-bits. Remember when you were a kid, and you would create secret languages with your friends so no one else could read your notes? You maybe reversed the alphabet, so A would actually be Z and Z would become A.... or you shifted everything over three letters and then wrote your note using your new alphabet. This is elementary level encryption. When a computer encrypts your personal data, it takes each character you enter and transforms it into another character, in any one of 2 to the 128th power ways. The code would take 20,000 years to break using todays' computers.

Two Key Algorithms: Additionally, the encryption method uses a two-key algorithm. This means there is a public and private key that have to be used to “unlock” the encrypted data. These keys are required by the computer sending the information (the computer you use to fill out and submit your online credit card application), and the computer receiving the information (the bank's computer) in order to unscramble and read the 128-bit encrypted personal data of your credit card application. A criminal intercepting an encrypted message not only has the impossible mathematical encryption to deal with; but he or she would also then need to have the public and private keys to “unlock” it.

It is true that identity theft is a real concern, especially as we're dealing with more of our personal information being stored online. Your concern should be more regarding non-banking websites that store personal data – since online credit card applications and banking systems use strong security and encryption methods that make them safer than mailing your information through the US Postal Service.
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