25. November 2019 | Hintergrund

Making payments online – but securely

Two thirds of German shoppers nowadays shop online. Instead of hurrying through busy shops after a long day in the office, we prefer to shop in comfort from the sofa at home. But the tricky point here is often the payment: there are lots of different payment options, ranging from credit cards to payment systems – but which of them is really secure?

Payment by bank transfer

The safest way to pay is by bank transfer: you don’t pay until you have received your parcel and inspected the goods. For online retailers, however, this means a higher risk: if a customer fails to pay, the retailer has to chase the money.

Payment by credit card

One of the most common forms of payment on the Internet is therefore payment by credit card. You simply enter the credit card company, the credit card number and the three-digit verification number on the back of the card – the seller can then collect the purchase amount and send the goods. To make payment by credit card more secure, the so-called “Secure Customer Authentication” (SCA) system has been in operation since 14 September 2019. If the seller fails to send the goods or if they are damaged, you can also arrange for the payment to be reversed via your credit card company.

Payment by direct debit

Payment by direct debit is particularly convenient for consumers. Once you have entered your bank details, the invoice amount is debited directly from your account. The downside is that you have to provide the retailer with all your bank details. On the positive side, if your goods are not shipped or arrive in a damaged condition, you can simply revoke the debit from your account within eight weeks.

Payment via a payment system provider

If you don’t want to give out your credit card or account information, you can alternatively use payment systems such as Paypal. The advantage here is that you don’t have to disclose your account or credit card details to every retailer. However, in order to use such a service, you first have to open a user account with the provider concerned, and register your bank details or credit card details there once. If an online shop offers payment via a payment service provider, you will be automatically redirected to the provider’s website at the checkout. Here you log in with your user name and password and confirm the transaction. The service provider forwards the payment to the shop and collects the amount from your bank account.

Payment in advance

It is not advisable to pay in advance, because in this case you bear all the risks. Reputable online shops therefore usually offer at least one alternative to advance payment. If the goods are not shipped or arrive damaged, you have little chance to reclaim your money and are at the mercy of the retailer. If you wish to pay in advance in spite of this, you should carefully check in advance how trustworthy the retailer concerned is. For example, you can use Internet forums to find out what other customers have experienced with regard to the particular online shop.

Cash payment

Sometimes retailers also offer the option of paying for the goods in cash at a branch which cooperates with the company concerned. After completing the order, you will receive a payment slip by email. Once you have paid the bill at the branch, the shop forwards the amount to the online retailer, which then sends the goods. In the event of a complaint or exchange, you send the goods back and in return your payment is refunded.

Watch out for phishing!

You should of course always beware of phising attempts. Especially for payments by credit card, but also for direct debit, so-called phishers try to get your credit card or bank details with the help of emails that look deceptively similar to those of well-known standard web shops. Operators of trustworthy online shops will never send you an email asking you to enter your bank details again on a website linked in the email. If you have received an email to this effect, you should contact the relevant online shop directly and follow the matter up.

Regardless of which payment method you choose: make sure in advance that the shop is trustworthy. Seals of quality, for example, can help here. In addition, check the legal notice of the web shop for complete details and, if necessary, search in forums for the experiences of other customers with the shop operator. When it comes to the payment process, both your personal data and your payment details should be transmitted in encrypted form via a secure SSL connection. You can recognise an encrypted connection by the fact that “https” is now displayed at the beginning of the web address instead of “http” in the address bar of your browser.