What Are Safe Ways To Pay Online? Which Payment Methods Are Dangerous?

Author: James Greening

April 5, 2020

There are thousands of methods being offered to pay online. Some are country-specific (like Ideal in the Netherlands and Boleto in Brazil), others are offered worldwide (like VISA, MasterCard and Paypal). Which payment methods offer the best consumer protection? In this article, we do not focus on ease of use or level of privacy, but only on whether the payment method protects your rights as a consumer. As you will see, the chance of getting your money back differs strongly depending on the payment method used.

Relatively Safe Payment Methods

No payment method is completely safe as there is never a 100% guarantee of getting your money back. Cases include non-delivery of the service or product, the wrong product being delivered or the package being stolen/broken during transport. However, the below payment methods are the most secure for you as a consumer:

Credit Cards

Credit card providers such as Mastercard, Visa and American Express offer consumers the possibility to start a ‘chargeback procedure’. This allows you to request your money back. However, the odds of the transaction being reversed depend on the nature of the transaction and the policies of the credit card provider. Some offer a nearly ‘no questions asked’ protection, while others force you to go through lengthy procedures. 


This payment solution is actually a kind of ‘wallet’, a topic that is discussed in detail below. PayPal is listed separately because it is, by far, the most popular payment method worldwide. It offers convenient transactions and some level of protection against fraud. However, the company does not guarantee that you will get your money back if there are problems with the order. Just like with credit cards, you have to prove you were scammed and the procedures can be complicated.

Payment After Delivery

Cash on Delivery (COD) is a popular option for online purchases, especially in developing countries. There are several companies that offer the same service online ie. they only transfer the money after you have received the goods. Examples are AliPay, Afterpay, and Klarna. These payment methods are relatively safe as the money remains in a third party account till you have confirmed that you have received the goods or service to your satisfaction. The disadvantage: not all merchants offer this kind of payment method as the risk now lies with them and they are often expensive for the online store to use. 

Less Safe Payment Methods

Debit Cards

In a debit card transaction, the payment amount is directly deducted from your account. This is not the case with most credit cards where you actually lend the money to the vendor from the credit card company. In many cases, the money is immediately transferred to the bank account of the recipient. Debit cards nowadays have a chargeback facility. However, if the recipient withdraws the amount immediately, the debit card company or bank is unlikely to be willing to pay it back to you. Usually, the only circumstance in which they might give back your money is if you can prove that your account was misused or hacked to carry out unauthorized transactions.

Digital or e-Wallets

There are hundreds of digital wallets offered by companies big and small. Examples of e-wallets include Venmo, Apple Pay, Baidu Wallet, PayPal, Google Wallet, Payoneer and Skrill. The main benefit with wallets is that you cannot take more money out of them then you put in (unless you connected them to your credit card or bank account). The level of consumer protection varies as per the policies of each. Compared to credit cards and PayPal, it might be more difficult to get your money back if the payment was made using an e-wallet.

Unified Payment Interface (UPI)

UPI is a payment interface which enables bank transfers in a more convenient manner. There are several payment apps which have integrated UPI including GPay, Amazon Pay, PayTM, as well as payment portals such as Citrus, RazorPay and UPay. The payment is either made into a bank account of the recipient through an intermediary. Payments made using UPI can be reversed if you approach the intermediary, for example, the customer support of GPay or Amazon Pay. The procedure will be similar to that of reversing a debit card transaction. 

Least Safe Payment Methods

Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.)

There are thousands of different digital currencies being used online and new ones are regularly cropping up. While these payment methods offer a high level of privacy, there is also often no way to get your money back. Due to the secretive nature of transactions, these kinds of payment methods are often used on adult, dating or gambling websites. There is no reason you should be forced to use this kind of payment method by any store or service. Any website which insists on payment through cryptocurrencies should be considered suspicious.

Net Banking

In this case, you directly transfer money from your bank account to that of the recipient. Few banks will pay back your money if things go wrong and the burden of proof is on you to prove that you have been scammed. Banks will go through a procedure to verify that that the receiving bank account is not legit (e.g. being used for money laundering or part of a crime syndicate) which can take several weeks. Unlike debit cards, net banking transactions don’t have a chargeback facility.

Electronic Money Transfer

Electronic money transfer services come with the same problems as bank transfers but magnified. The receiving party can just walk up to a local Moneygram or Western Union store and withdraw the money in cash. Therefore, the transactions are impossible to reverse as the payments are made using physical money. These organizations often refuse to take any responsibility and are unlikely to pay you back. 

Gift Cards

Scams such as tech-support scams and others involve payments which are to be made using gift cards. These kinds of cards don’t store any user credentials and can be used online or offline. While they do provide convenience, they also offer no protection once the physical cards or digital codes have been shared with someone. 


In short, the most consumer-friendly payment methods are credit cards by major companies, Paypal and Cash on Delivery. With other methods, it is possible to get you money back but only after following lengthy processes involving multiple verifications. 

If you have been scammed and need to know how you can get your money back, please visit the page How to Get Your Money Back From a Scam

Learn about the different kinds of scams on the page Types of Scams

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