The holiday season is upon us! If you’re like me you’ll wind up doing most of your shopping within the next few weeks and will be doing most of it online. comScore has released a report that online holiday season shopping for 2009 (Nov 1 – Dec 24) rose 5% to $27 Billion from 2008. In one day alone last year –Cyber Monday on November 30–$877 million was spent on online shopping! With the increased volume of online shopping its imperative that we, as consumers, understand the security risks with doing online shopping and take an active role in protecting ourselves and our information.
Here are some tips to help promote a safe, secure online shopping experience:
Secure your computer. Make sure your computer has the latest security updates installed. Check that your anti-virus/anti-spyware software is running and are up to date. If you haven’t already done so, install a firewall before you begin your online shopping.
Upgrade your browser. Upgrade your Internet browser to the most recent version available. Review the browser’s security settings. Apply the highest level of security available that still gives you the functionality you need.
Ignore pop-up messages. Set your browser to block pop-up messages. If you do receive one, click on the “X” at the top right corner of the title bar to close the pop-up message.
Secure your transactions. Look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar and be sure “https” appears in the website’s address bar before making an online purchase. The “s” stands for “secure” and indicates that the webpage is encrypted. Some browsers can be set to warn the user if they are submitting information that is not encrypted.
Use strong passwords. Create strong passwords for online accounts. Use at least eight characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Don’t use the same passwords for online shopping websites that you use for logging onto your home or work computer. Never share your login and/or password.
Do not e-mail sensitive information. Never e-mail credit card or other financial/sensitive information. E-mail is like sending a postcard and other people have the potential to read it.
Using a public wireless (WiFi HotSpot) network to conduct transactions. Criminals may be monitoring public wireless for credit card numbers and other confidential information. The best solution is to use software that encrypts and hides your information when connected to public wireless networks.
Make payments securely. Pay by credit card rather than debit card. Credit/charge card transactions are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Cardholders are typically only liable for the first $50 in unauthorized charges. If online criminals obtain your debit card information they have the potential to empty your bank account.
Use temporary account authorizations. Some credit card companies offer virtual or temporary credit card numbers. This service gives you a temporary account number for online transactions. These numbers are issued for a short period of time and cannot be used after that period.
Select merchants carefully. Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. If you have questions about a merchant check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
Keep a record. Keep a record of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of every e-mail you send or receive from the seller. Review your credit card and bank statements for unauthorized charges.
What to do if you encounter problems with an online shopping site:
If you have problems shopping online contact the seller or site operator directly. If those attempts are not successful, you may wish to contact the following entities:
- the NC Attorney General’s office www.ncdoj.com
- the Better Business Bureau at: www.bbb.org
- the Federal Trade Commission at: www.ftc.gov/
For additional information about safe online shopping, please visit the following sites:
- US-CERT: www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST07-001.html
- National Cyber Security Alliance: http://www.staysafeonline.org/in-the-home/online-shopping
- OnGuard Online: www.onguardonline.gov/topics/online-shopping.aspx
- Online Cyber Safety: www.bsacybersafety.com/video/
- Microsoft: www.microsoft.com/protect/fraud/finances/shopping_us.aspx