Some Tips for Keeping this Holiday Shopping Season Merry for You (Not for Identity Thieves)
First comes “Black Friday” (traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year) and a brief three days later comes “Cyber Monday ” (so dubbed by marketers as the year’s most popular shopping day online). But before you shop online this season – before you even begin surfing for gift ideas – it’s important to understand the risks you take when you buy over the Internet, and the precautions all online shoppers should take to guard their personal information from would-be hackers, spammers, scammers, and marketers.
It’s estimated that 41 percent of all holiday spending will be online this year. Last year, according to the National Retail Federation, 100 million of us shopped online on Cyber Monday. Although it’s convenient to make your purchases online, there are many risks to consumers making online transactions – and it’s not just credit card or identity theft that is of concern. Scammers set up illegitimate sites posing as retailers of popular items and many shoppers have their personal information compromised thanks to tracking technology , malware, and information sent through online registration forms.
Don’t shop online like Mary shops
Mary has no idea what to buy her niece for Christmas; what does she know about what seven-year olds like these days? So she goes online and searches “most popular christmas toys 2010.” Search results come up for various retailer lists of what they’ve designated as ‘hot toys,’ and advertisements appear in the margins with ‘suggestions’ for Mary.
Mary doesn’t realize how easy it is for her online behavior to be tracked, so she’s surfing the Web unarmed and uninformed. Unbeknownst to Mary, Internet Service Providers, Websites, and marketing networks all are closely tracking her online behavior in order to provide targeted advertising, classify her into a demographic group, and resell information about her to other companies. And once she finds what she’s looking for – say, a Nintendo Wii – she’s got to find which retailer has the best deal. The online tracking continues as she price-shops. When she clicks on an advertisement for a Wii flashing on the sidebar – an offer for half off! – she enters her contact and credit card information at checkout, and pays extra for expedited 2-day shipping.
Two days later, the Wii hasn’t arrived; she tries to find the website, but it’s nowhere to be found. Though the Wii never arrives, the mailman delivers her credit card statement. An itemized list, showing transactions she didn’t make, at sites and stores she’s never heard of. The nightmare begins.
Don’t be like Mary. Arm yourself with the proper knowledge and protection to avoid compromising your personal information …
Protect Yourself With These 12 Simple Steps:
- Only Purchase on Trusted Sites: Make sure the store’s online checkout page is secure – designated with the letters “https” (not “http”) at the beginning of the address.
- Use a Secure Connection: Only share your personal information with a website if you’re on a computer with a secure connection. Try to avoid making transactions with your credit card on a computer with a public Wi-Fi connection .
- Clear, block, and edit behavioral tracking technology. Thanks to cookies, beacons, and other species of tracking technology , you will see different prices and offers for the same than another Web user – it all depends on the online profile built by the technology that is silently tracking what you look at online. Control the massive amounts of cookies implanted onto your browser and hard drive with your browser’s cookie controls.
- Use a unique password (with combination letters, numbers, and symbols) for every account you create. If you compile a list of your login info, keep it secure – don’t store that list on your computer.
- Delete New Accounts When You’re Done: To avoid getting spammed, go back and delete all of your newly created accounts once your transaction is complete and your gifts are delivered; and don’t click on any links sent to you in an email message since those links can be dangerous for your computer and personal info.
- Anti-Virus Software: Ensure that your computer’s anti-virus software is installed and up to date.
- Avoid Fake Deals: Don’t go for a deal that’s too good to be true (because it’s probably not true). Phony ‘free Apple iPad’ promos appeared soon after the gadget went on sale, and there will likely be loads of similar scams. Check out whether the site’s listed with the Better Business Bureau ’s Business & Charity Directory before purchase.
- Mobile web shopping: According to the Mobile Marketing Association, more than half of consumers plan to use their mobile device for holiday shopping. Small screens make it difficult to read the entire URL or web page, which makes it easier to miss obvious attempts at fraud.
- Social Media: 54 percent of retailers plan to use social media to reach out to holiday consumers this year. If you get a link to an e-commerce site via a message in a social network, don’t click on it. The messaging systems of social networking sites are notoriously unsecure . To be safe, you should assume messages directing you to another website as spam, even if they come from a ‘friend.’
- Charitable Giving: Make sure the charity site you’re donating to is legitimate. Scammers have been known to set up phony charities during the holidays, redirect your donation to another bank account, divert you to another website, or recommend that you install some bogus third-party application. Check the FTC’s Charity Checklist for more information on spotting, stopping, and avoiding online charity fraud.
- If you need help, ask: There are loads of impartial, non-profit, and government-sponsored organizations that offer assistance to consumers and victims in need of more information or support regarding online fraud. Check out our extensive list of such resources on Abine’s webpage about your legally protected right to online privacy.
- Arm yourself with protection: Abine’s Privacy Suite software and DeleteMe service can keep your personal information secure and under your control by automatically opting you out of tracking by advertisers, managing login information, auto form-filling on registration and checkout pages, creating proxy email address information to avoid spam, and deleting all your newly created accounts when you’re done with them.