Safely Shopping Online

If you’re like me and millions of other people, you probably shop online.  This almost inevitably means you will transmit your credit card number along with personally identifying information such as your name and address through the internet. This is a prime opportunity for a bad guy to steal your identity without ever having to be near your trash-can, which is is another story for another tip.

Here are a few things to remember when you shop online in order to stay as safe as possible:

  1. Make sure you shop at a reputable online merchant.  Anyone can setup a Web site, and they may offer amazing bargains on products that don’t exist to lure you into divulging your personal information and account numbers.  If you don’t recognize the name of an online merchant, do some research and read reviews before placing an order.  Chances are their amazing deals are amazing for a reason that is of no benefit to you.
  2. If the online merchant doesn’t use SSL or HTTPS to secure your transaction, immediately leave the Web site. You can tell if you are on asecure site by looking at the URL bar – if you see HTTPS, the transaction is encrypted. In some browsers, you’ll also see a lock icon in the lower right-hand corner indicating the session is encrypted.  If you don’t see these, shop elsewhere. Using HTTPS only requires an investment of about $25 by the merchant. If the online merchant you are shopping at can’t be bothered to secure the transmission of your personal information and account numbers, you should find another merchant.
  3. Limit your exposure.  Even if you shop at a reputable site that secures transactions, problems can still arise.  Take advantage of any safety features your credit card company offers.  If you use a Visa card, you can use ShopSafe.  This is completely free and allows you to generate a one-time use credit card number as well as set a spending cap on that number.  Something like this is perfect for online shopping.  When your merchant asks for your credit card number, you generate a one-time use number through ShopSafe (or a similar application) and set the spending limit just above the total for your purchase. Even if this amount were to be intercepted, it would be used once and only for the limit you entered.  This significantly limits the amount of damage someone can do.
  4. NEVER EVER shop online from a public computer.  If the general public has access to a computer, or if multiple people besides you have access to a computer, you never know what they may have done to the computer, or may have unwittingly allowed to happen to the computer.   I’ll repeat it once more: DO NOT shop from a public computer — ever. If you do, you are essentially leaving your credit card, name and address laying out in public for everyone to see.
  5. Before shopping online at work, be sure you understand your company’s policy about such activity.  Odds are that you have signed a consent to monitoring agreement and an appropriate use agreement.  While your company is not likely to try stealing your identity, you could face disciplinary action for shopping online at work.

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