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Security stories

10 Ways to Protect Yourself While Shopping Online

You’re on the ball. You’ve got your antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall up and running. You update your software all the time, patching any security holes as they come up (Our free Health Check makes that easy). Still, that may not be enough.

According to Travelers’ Insurance, old fashion theft is still the most popular choice for identity criminals. 78% of all fraud is the result of the burglary and theft of wallets, purses, ID cards or computers. However, 14% of all identity thefts happen online.

While most online fraud begins with a large-scale data breach, bad choices made by us—the computer users—are making life easier for thieves.


A new breed of hackers has a new generation of tricks and phishing scams designed to manipulate you into willingly turning over your financial data.

You know the security clich├ęs: Knowledge is power; think before you click; if a deal seems to be good to be true, it is; only YOU can prevent you from entering your credit card information into the wrong website.

But it’s not as simple as that. Not anymore.

To avoid unnecessary expenses while shopping online, keep the following tips in mind as you search for the best deals around.

1. Keep your identity secure
Protect your social security number at all costs. Never reveal your full social security number. It’s not necessary and legitimate retailers won’t ask for it. Also be very careful about posting or sharing any personal information including your birthday, addresses, favorite pet’s name—anything that could be used to identify you or crack your passwords.

2. Monitor your credit card and checking accounts
Report any unauthorized use of your accounts to your bank or account holder at once.

3. Make sure any site is secure before entering account information
Before you fill out any form, check the URL of the page you are on. You are looking for two things. First, make sure the address includes an “s” after the http like this https://. The extra “s” is for a secure connection. Then check to make sure that you are at a site you know and trust. Not sure if a site is legit? Google it or check it out on epinions.com or bizrate.com.

4. Use virtual credit card numbers
Paypal, most banks and many credit card companies offer virtual credit card numbers to use while shopping online. These limited use numbers expire after a short period of time. While this isn’t a foolproof solution to keeping crooks from accessing your accounts, it definitely limits who gets access to your financial data. Contact your financial institution for more information. If you don’t want to use a virtual card, your regular card is the next safest way of making online payments. In the US, you are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and only liable for the first $50 of any unauthorized use. And most institutions won’t even charge you that.

5. Practice smart password security
Use different passwords for every account. Make your passwords unique and not guessable based off personal data. Change your passwords every few months. That’s a lot to remember, right? Our Labs folk recommend that you come up with a personal code to identify which password goes to which site. Then write those suckers down. Yep, write them down.

6. Practice Phishing
Phishing, as you probably know, is when crooks set up a web site designed to get you to enter your personal data. Often these sites are look just like a site you recognize or trust. These scams may prompt you to do something that seems harmless like changing your password or reentering your card info. Once your data is compromised your credit cards may be next. The best way to avoid these scams is to get familiar with how the look and act. Just Google “Phishing Quiz” and try a couple out. It doesn’t take long to get a hang of the few tricks these scammers use again and again.

7. Check shipping facts and policies
Retailers generally do everything they can to add to their sales. Most every ecommerce transaction requires you to choose shipping methods. If the shipping costs seem excessive, you may be paying for the low cost of your order. Compare prices at sites like PriceGrabber.com and NexTag.com and find out if you’re really getting a deal. Also check minimum price requirements on any free shipping offers. Find out if it’s worth spending a bit more to save in the end. Also, consider tracking and insurance for larger or more expensive items.

8. Be careful of digital signatures
In the United States and several other countries, a digital signature is the same as a physical signature. Entering a digital signature enters you into a legal contract. Make sure you’re ok with the consequences of your click before pressing submit.

9. Double check any suspicious retailer
Have a deal that’s too good to resist? Done all the research you can about the site in question? Still worried? Investigate the retailer. Make sure the address of the company’s headquarters and warehouses are located in the same country as you. Still not sure? Contact the company by phone or move on to another e-retailer. Your financial data is too valuable to risk for one good deal.

10. Read the fine print
A common ebay scam is to sell a picture of an item. So instead of that Netbook you thought you’d paid for, you’d get a .jpg or a Polaroid. Embarrassing, right? So don’t let it happen to you.