One of the questions I get most frequently is how to securely share your credit card details with your virtual assistant, so they can make purchases and arrange travel on your behalf.
Like any transaction — online or off — there is still a certain level of trust involved, but there are a few ways different virtual assistant companies handle your private information, and there is another way you can keep your data secure with freelance VAs as well.
Option 1: Reimbursement
The most secure way to share your credit card information is not to share it all. With the reimbursement method, your VA completes the purchase and bills you for the appropriate amount.
To prevent abuse, written confirmation should be required because you don’t want any surprises showing up their expense report.
“Last week week when you were stressed out and said you really could use a trip to Hawaii, I took the initiative and booked your plane tickets. First class, all the way!”
Fancy Hands employs a variation on the Reimbursement option that lets their team of assistants make purchases on your behalf (after written approval) using the Fancy Hands company credit card. Then, they just bill the card you have on file with them for your subscription for the amount of the purchase.
I’ve only tested this once, but it’s executed fairly well. Currently, it’s limited to transactions of $100 or less though.
Option 2: LastPass Access
LastPass is one of my favorite online tools, and it’s free! The browser add-on saves your website passwords and auto-fills login forms so you don’t need to clutter your brain with all those logins anymore. I love it.
The cool thing about LastPass is you can share your account access for certain websites securely by simply going into your LastPass Vault, selecting the site you want to share, and entering in the email of your VA. Then, when they go to the site, LastPass will help them login with your information but they’ll never see the actual password.
The way to use LastPass to have your VA make purchases on your behalf is to set them up with account access for sites where your credit card details are already stored in your account. For example, you probably already have a credit card stored with Amazon, Delta Airlines, PayPal, or any number of other sites.
For security, only the last 4 numbers of the credit card is ever visible inside those sites so your VA will be able to login and make purchases on your behalf without ever seeing the full credit card number.
Option 3: A Secure Virtual Wallet
Other VA companies have a “virtual wallet” or similarly-secured area of your profile where you can store sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, and frequent flyer accounts.
This data is afforded the same level of encryption as a website’s shopping cart pages, but when it comes time to make the purchase, someone from the VA company will still have to access it and be able to see the full credit card number. The security features limit access to only those who have your permission, and this method works well as long as the trust doesn’t get abused.
Option 4: Naked Trust
If you’ve been working with a freelance virtual assistant for a long time, you may trust that person implicitly. In that case, you may just read off the details of your credit card to them over the phone and have them store it in a secure place in their office.
This method was enthusiastically espoused by Kevin Zittle during the Elance Work Differently Summit I attended.
While this option seems pretty cavalier, keep in mind it’s in your VA’s interest to keep your credit card data secure as well. After all, they probably want to continue the relationship for the long term, or at least get a referral or recommendation when you’re done. If they start making unauthorized purchases, they’re burning their bridges with you and potentially jeopardizing their entire future in the industry.
One last thing to note is that most credit cards now come with a zero liability fraud protection guarantee against unauthorized purchases. That doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t be careful with your credit card information, but it does mean that should your data get compromised, it probably won’t hurt you financially.
What method do you use to keep your credit card secure when working with virtual assistants?
trying to find my card without a tracking number
@Nick tell me more about this LastPass Option and how it works
No problem. Check out this post from Bojan over at Alpha Efficiency: http://alphaefficiency.com/lastpass-collaboration-sharing-your-passwords-with-virtual-assistants/
Basically your VA will need to install the LastPass browser extension, then you can share the password through the app for any site you choose and they won’t be able to see the actual pw. Then if they don’t need access anymore, you can shut off the sharing.
Great summary, Nick. The question of trust is an interesting one, and I find it varies widely. Some people recoil at saving their credit card details on an online site, fearing data hacking, but are happy to use an individual they trust, while others are confident in electronic systems but fearful of deliberately handing over power to another person.
I think one rule applies to whatever system you use, and it’s the same for all forms of financial control. Know what you expect, and know what’s happening in all areas of your finances. That means checking bank statements or transaction records promptly, and following up any discrepancies. Much financial fraud occurs because someone realises their activity isn’t being noticed.
Excellent points! Especially about checking the statements… sometimes I feel like if someone got my credit card and only shopped at Amazon, Target, Trader Joe’s and Safeway I’d never know it!