Last week, I was on vacation with my son in San Diego. We had to go to the mall to replace the recharging cord for my phone. While we were on our way back to the hotel, a young activist approached us, looking for a donation to his cause. I agree with his cause, so I was on board with making a one-time donation with my credit card.
Things changed, though, as I started filling out the form he provided. When I got to the payment part, I was expected to enter write out my credit card number and expiration date.
I asked if there was another way to pay. While I don’t doubt the activist’s furor, and I think he would probably do what he could to protect this sensitive financial information, I just didn’t feel comfortable writing out my credit card number on a form at a mall fundraiser. I felt bad that I had started to fill out the form before reading everything through, and I felt bad I wasn’t going to be providing a donation after all.
But providing that information on a random form, with the opportunity for theft at any turn, just didn’t appeal to me. I probably spend too much time writing about money, credit, and identity theft.
However, activists and others don’t have to rely on people being willing to share their credit card details. From small business owners to independent artists to just about anyone else, it’s easy to transfer money without the need for a lot of personal financial details.
Alternatives to Sharing Your Credit Card Number
There are plenty of options when you have a smartphone. Card reading apps like Square and PayAnywhere are increasingly common, and you can get the card reader for free without too much trouble. A customer can swipe the card, choose whether or not to pay a tip, and move on. It’s quick and easy, and your data remains safer than if you write out your credit card number on an unsecure form.
When I mentioned Square to the activist, he said that many of the people working for the cause couldn’t afford smart phones. While that is a setback in terms using a card reader setup, the reality is that Square isn’t the only option.
There are person-to-person payment options these days, like PopMoney. If you accept payment via these types of service providers, you don’t have to ask for personal information; just have the person paying send you the money via text. No smartphone needed.
It’s also possible to facilitate these types of transactions with the help of PayPal, Dwolla, and other similar systems. Once, at an art festival, I bought something from a local artist, and I paid for it with PayPal. It was quick, easy, and there was no need for me to write down my credit card information.
With money increasingly digital, there are a number of ways to protect your credit card number and still pay for just about anything. While I sympathize with the activist’s cause, I wasn’t about to expose my personal financial information in that way. There are plenty of other options that don’t cost much, and that can make things convenient for everyone – and reach customers and donors in a way that allows them to remain comfortable with the transaction.
You can’t be too careful with your financial information. Just as you may not be comfortable with providing your Social Security number to others, you may not feel comfortable providing your credit card information. If you are worried about the situation, don’t give up the information.
And, small businesses and activists can help out, too. There are a number of alternatives to asking people to write down their credit card information. If my school’s PTA can get on board with these alternatives, I’d think young, tech-savvy activists could as well.