Sometimes, you want to buy something very specific and no stores in your area carry that item.  Other times, you get an email enticing you to attend a sale that is irresistibly good.  Maybe it is just that you are just too busy to get to out and purchase something you really need.  Whatever the reason, online shopping has gone from a preference to a near necessity.  This is what we were thinking about at the Identity Theft Resource Center when we decided to cover online shopping safety for our Identity Theft Twitter Chat in September.

We thought it would be good to let our readership dip their toes into the world of staying safe while online shopping by giving just a few of the many tips we will be sharing during our upcoming event. So, we put together a list of a couple of our favorite tips for you:

  1. Use Secure Sites: Secure websites use security technology to transfer information from your computer to the online merchant’s computer. This technology scrambles (encrypts) the information you send, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from obtaining it “en route.” This reduces the number of people who can access the transaction information. The following items shown on your web browser will indicate a connection to a secure web site.
    •  https:// The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates that the website is secure. Often, you do not see the “s” until you actually move to the order page on the website.
    •  A closed yellow padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.
  2.  Don’t shop on unprotected WiFi: We have all done it.  You go to the coffee shop to merely browse through your latest edition of Wall Street Journal on your iPad.  Then you remember you need new shoes for a wedding next month and decide to knock that task off your to-do list. Don’t do it! The information you send while using public WiFi can usually be seen by anyone and that includes any credit card information you enter.  If you are going to do anything even remotely sensitive while using public WiFi, be sure you have a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
  3. Research the Vendor or Website: It is best to do business with companies you already know. If the company is unfamiliar, investigate their authenticity and credibility. Conduct an Internet search (i.e. Google, Yahoo) for the company name. The results should provide both positive and negative comments about the company. If there are no results, be extremely wary. Remember, anyone can create a website.
  4. Credit vs. Debit: The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card. In the event something goes wrong, you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are only responsible for the first $50 in charges. We recommend that you obtain one credit card that you use only for online payments to make it easier to detect wrongful credit charges and keep your other cards from being exposed.

These tips are not really hard to remember so we recommend that you learn them and always use them.  There is nothing like waiting in the mail for a package and getting a big fat case of identity theft instead.  For more tips about online shopping safety, to ask questions or to learn about resources to help keep you safe, join our upcoming Identity Theft Twitter Chat (#IDTheftChat) on September 5th at 11:00am PST.  You can view questions and RSVP here. In the meantime shop safely and we hope to chat with you soon!

“Identity Theft is Never on Sale” was written by Nikki Junker.  Nikki is the Media Manager at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to www.idtheftcenter.org.