Q. Is it safe to apply for a credit card online? I want to get a card from a specific bank but I live too far from a branch to go there in person.
A. Identity theft is a concern, but today most banks use secure online technology. To make sure the bank's website is safe, look for "https" at the start of its address. The "s" stands for "secure."
Information you're sending to the bank will be scrambled so that it will be useless to any hackers trying to steal it en route. Also, look for a lock icon at the bottom right side of the page, another visual sign that the site is secure.
It should always be you who initiates an application of this kind. If you get email offering you a credit card, and perhaps asking for your Social Security number, don't assume it's legitimate and don't share any information.
If you're interested in the offer, call the bank. If it's offering no such deal, pat yourself on the back: You've just avoided being a victim in a "phishing" expedition.
In phishing schemes, identity thieves send official-looking emails asking you to apply for a credit card, update online account information or confirm a transaction. Whatever form it takes, it's an attempt to steal your personal information.
Some phishing emails contain links to what look like the websites of well-known national companies. Even experts can't always tell the difference when they're at a fake site.
Also of interest: Think twice about store-branded credit cards. >>
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.