Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

Is it safe to use a credit card for internet shopping?
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My mum is terrified of using her credit card on the internet. How safe is it?

The good news is that, according to the UK payments association Apacs, you're far more likely to have your details stolen in the real world by, say, an unscrupulous restaurant employee, than by any technological subterfuge.

There are steps you can take to minimise risk of shopping online. Paul Waite writes: "Make sure you have the latest anti-virus software. Some computers become infected with keystroke loggers, which can send to criminals everything you type - including credit card details." Make sure you're buying from a store that uses SSL encryption, either by checking for the padlock symbol in your browser, or that the page address begins with "https". And avoid using debit cards; a queried credit card bill is less stressful than money disappearing from your bank account. Both Visa and Mastercard have systems that require credit card purchases to be verified by a password - but these systems are bypassed if your chosen vendor doesn't participate in the scheme. An alternative solution is to avoid using your credit card number at all; Tom Burt recommends Cahoot's Webcard, which "generates a new, unique credit card number for each purchase you make". Paypal, which began by providing payment services to small traders, is now recognised by larger companies. With it, the merchant never sees the credit card details, and Paypal handles the password-protected transaction. Last week, after many months of development, Google finally launched a similar service in the US, with expansion planned worldwide. Of course, there will continue to be issues of breachability as criminals try and get you to reveal your password. But, unlike a 16-digit credit card number, you shouldn't have to tell a soul.

Diagnosis required

Martin Cutler writes with next week's question:

"Sandi Thom and the Arctic Monkeys supposedly reached the big time by using internet publicity alone. So what's the trick? How can my own band become successful online?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.