I wrote the book on Internet security – literally. One of my past projects was to research and write a guide for training our business customers about the safe usage of electronic banking products. It really is pretty scary what really smart hackers can do with your personal information. We all think we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves, until we get hacked – which is what happened to me…twice.
I do a lot of online shopping, and I’m not going to stop. I live in a small town in the midwestern US, and we just don’t have access to everything I need. Plus I’m tall, so I have a hard time finding clothes to fit me in town. My only option is to continue to protect my financial information. I thought I would share some tips with you about how you can protect yourself when shopping online.
Know your seller. If you’re not already familiar with the seller, confirm their physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. And if you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you’re browsing, don’t reply or follow the link. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information that way.
Pay attention. If, at any time during your visit, your internet certification process warns you to be careful of a site that might be falsely taking your confidential details, don’t go any further.
Ready to Buy.
Only use secure websites when it comes time to submit your payment information. Ensure that your credit card details are going to be processed using a secure connection. The most common form of secure encryption is known as Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL for short. SSL encrypts data and breaks it up into small pieces so that the information can not be read by anyone wanting to intercept it.
- To check that your place of purchase is using SSL or secure technology there are a few things to look out for in your Internet browser:
- Depending on your browser settings you may receive a message stating that you are entering a secure area. The secure area normally begins on the first page where you enter personal details.
- Most often the address bar in your browser will change from starting with http to https. The “s” indicates that the site is secure but note that often you won’t see the “s” until you are on the order page itself.
- You can also look out for a padlock symbol in your browser symbolizing the page is secure. The padlock should be closed. If it is open, assume the site is not secure.
Pay by credit card. Credit cards tend to offer more protection than debit cards, as they don’t directly remove funds from your own bank account. Also, If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act (in the US). Under this law, you can dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them.
In the event that someone uses your credit card without your permission, your liability generally is limited to the first $50 in charges. Some companies guarantee that you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made to your card online; some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits.
An increasing number of online stores now request a CVV or card verification number when making a purchase. The CVV code is the small code shown on the signature bar on the back of your card. Normally the last three digits of the code are required. This is to prevent someone who has managed to get your name, card number and expiration date from being able to make purchases using your card.
Keep Records. Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the seller. Read your credit card statements as you receive them; be on the lookout for charges that you don’t recognize.
I’ve Been Robbed!
Contact your bank. If you find that someone has either charged or attempted to make charges using your credit or debit card, call your bank and close the affected account(s) immediately. In the best-case scenario, you will be able to shut down or change any credit card, bank, or other online service accounts before they can be leveraged by the thief. Err on the side of safety: a little more trouble taken up front to freeze or change accounts can save you much more effort later in disputing fraudulent purchases made by a cybercriminal.
While you have your financial institution on the phone or access to them in person, discuss any impact this potential fraud might have on your account and the steps you would need to take if the account was compromised during the attack. For example, how can you dispute fraudulent charges? Or how can you recover the stolen funds?
Good luck, and happy shopping!