Editorial Policy

Is it Safe to Email Credit Card Info?

Erica Sandberg

May 17, 2013

QDear Erica,

Is it safe to email or text credit card information? I want to buy some electronic items from a friend with a connection to a great deal. He said I have to send my credit card numbers and all of my personal information associated with the card, and he'll order it for me and have it sent to my billing address. Is this safe? He said he can get me a 20 percent discount on stuff that never goes on sale, but I'm still uneasy about it. — June

AHi June,

My first reaction to your letter is to respond with a firm “No way, don't do it!” There is something that seems intrinsically risky about sending personal credit card data via email or text message.

Or is it? I admit that I'm a little paranoid about credit card and other personal data zipping around electronically. Therefore, I asked my friend and famed identity theft expert Robert Siciliano what he thinks. If anyone is cognizant about the dangers of these types of transactions, he is. And I must say I was surprised by his response.Ask Erica

“I email credit card information all the time,” says Siciliano. OK, but is it safe? “It's definitely safer than handing over your credit card number to any store clerk or waiter.”

Think about it, June. Each time you give a credit card to someone you don't know — and who then takes it out of your range of vision — anything can happen. That person can copy the numbers imprinted on it and create a dummy card that he can use to swipe at a store. Or he can use the digits alone to shop online, with the items delivered to a new address. These things don't happen all the time, but they do happen.

Although the risks of texting or emailing your credit information are minimal, you must take care to pay close attention to your credit card statements after you share your credit card information with another person.

This I totally agree with. If your friend uses your credit card information to pay for things that he's not supposed to, he's committing fraud. You can dispute those charges with your credit card company. Consumer laws are powerful, and in most cases unauthorized charges are not the responsibility of you, the cardholder. As long as you report the crime quickly, whatever the person spent illegally should be reimbursed to your card. The Fair Credit Billing Act limits your losses to $50 if someone uses your credit card information to make purchases without your permission. You would have to go through a rigmarole, though. That would include contacting the police to file a report and flagging your credit report for fraud.

I want you to pay close attention to what your gut is saying. Perhaps you feel uneasy because you don't know this friend very well, or you do, and he's got a checkered past. While you probably won't be held responsible for debts you didn't incur, you could be opening yourself up to unnecessary trouble. You can't put a price on aggravation and betrayal.

Before placing your order and hitting “send,” weigh the money you'll save with the discount to the possible time spent working out problems if your buddy decides to take your plastic for a joyride.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.