Anyone who has found a great deal on an unknown website has probably felt the same bit of angst. Do you make the purchase and hope the site's secure? Or pass up an amazing buy out of concern your credit card information may become vulnerable?

A Boston startup thinks it has an answer that lets you score the deal while keeping your account information concealed. Abine, an online privacy company, says its masked credit cards are the perfect way to ensure safe shopping on the Web.

Hot innovation or reinventing the wheel?

For a $5 monthly fee, MaskMe customers can create disposable credit card numbers on the fly. Not only are the credit card numbers disposable, but users can attach them to fake names and use Abine's address for added privacy.

The company recommends people create a masked credit card and then authorize the card for only the amount of the purchase price for maximum financial protection. Of course, to create the masked cards, users have to entrust Abine with their real credit card number which means their financial information is only as safe as Abine's security system.

However, Abine is notable for allowing users to mask multiple cards under one account. That may be convenient if you want to use your airline credit card for one purchase but a cash-back credit card at a different merchant. In addition, the ability to use a fake name and address is a feature not available through the card issuer programs.

Offline purchases still a problem

At the start of the year, Abine heavily promoted its service to consumers affected by holiday security breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus. The company offered free masked cards to the millions of customers affected by hacks at those stores.

While masked cards might protect those individuals from a repeat incident while shopping online, the Abine solution doesn't seem to address the problem faced by offline shoppers. The Target breach meant the personal data from millions of in-store shoppers was made vulnerable to hackers, yet masked credit cards are only available in the virtual world.

The day may come when customers can use 3-D printers to create temporary credit cards at home. After all, thieves are already using the printers to steal card information. But until then, consumers are at the mercy of retailer security systems.

For now, credit card holders making offline purchases should watch their statements closely for suspicious charges that could be a sign of a compromised account. As for online purchases, stick to reputable websites or consider asking for a temporary number or maybe even a masked credit card for those times when the deal is great but the website has you feeling iffy.

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