Practice safe shopping online this holiday season

Watch out for Good Ol’ Scammer Claus

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Ben Woelk

Expert advice from Ben Woelk, information security communications and training specialist in RIT’s Information Technology Services Department.

Consumers spent more than $29 billion shopping online last holiday season and may spend even more this year. To cyber criminals, more spending and the busy-ness of the season means more opportunity for identity theft and fraud.

As you begin your shopping, follow these guidelines to help ensure that you don’t become a victim.

1. Make sure you’ve protected your computer. According to a survey by the National Cyber Safety Alliance, most home computers aren’t as well protected as their users believe.

2. Know from where you’re buying. Plug the Web site name into a search engine. What kinds of consumer reviews are returned?

Understand the seller’s return/exchange policy before buying.

Check the seller’s privacy policy to understand how they will protect your information.

If you’re shopping on an auction site, check the seller’s feedback to see what kind of experience others have had.

3. Know what you’re buying. Don’t fall for a deal that looks too good to be true. Extremely low prices could be an indication that the item is a counterfeit. The Web site may also harbor malware that could attack your computer.

If you’re making several purchases, try to combine them in the same order if possible. It saves the amount of transactions you have to make and may also save you money on shipping costs.

4. Only send your private information using secure Web forms. Make sure the address bar begins with either shttp or https.

Look for a padlock or an unbroken key on your Web browser to confirm that the site is secure. The padlock will be located at the left end of the address bar or in the bottom right part of the browser window.

Don’t respond to requests for private information. No legitimate retailer will ask you to submit private information by e-mail. Never give out bank account numbers or Social Security numbers online or in response to an e-mail.

5. Use a secure payment method. Find out if your financial institution offers one-time use “virtual credit cards” or “temporary account numbers.” These use different numbers than your regular account and expire after a set time period.

Credit cards offer the most protection. Federal law limits your fraud liability to $50 for unauthorized transactions. MasterCard and Visa offer zero liability for most debit transactions as well.

If you’re not using a credit or debit card, don’t use cash or wire transfers. Use a money order or cashier’s check instead, since these methods are much easier to trace if something goes wrong.

6. Keep a paper trail. Print copies of all of your orders and receipts as well as e-mail correspondence and product descriptions. Monitor your bank account and credit card statement after your transactions for any suspicious activity.

7. If you suspect something is wrong: Contact the seller and inform them of the problem.

Contact your financial institution or credit card issuer immediately to freeze your account(s).

If necessary, file a complaint or identity theft report with the proper authorities:

FTC Identity Theft report information;

NYS Attorney General's Office;

Better Business Bureau.

8. For more information on safe online shopping, visit the following Web sites:

New York State Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination

OnGuard Online

Stay Safe Online

Safe Shopping