Believe it or not, the safest way to shop online is with a
credit card over a secure connection. The important part of
that first sentence is over a secure connection. There are
a number of ways to tell if the site you are visiting uses
secure technology to guard your credit card and other information.
For instance, you can:
- Check the address of the page you are on. If it begins
with https:// instead of http:// secure sockets layer (SSL)
technology is being used to encrypt your credit card information.
- In Microsoft Internet Explorer, a secure site will show
an icon of a lock on the status bar.
Don’t e-mail private information
E-mail is not at all secure. Never send credit card information,
passwords, social security numbers, bank account numbers,
or any other personal information in an email message. "Theft
of identity" is a growing crime: be very careful with
any information that could be used to impersonate you.
Should you call it in?
Many sites allow buyers to order online, and then give credit
card information over the phone to complete the order. A lot
of people feel safer sharing information over the phone, but
it’s actually safer to send the information on a secure
If you do give credit card information over the phone, make
a note for yourself about each transaction. Write down:
- The company name
- The phone number
- The date and time of your call
- The name of the person you spoke to
- What you ordered
- Item prices
- Total order price, including shipping and any applicable
No matter how you pay for your purchases, keep records when
you shop online. Print out and save:
- The seller’s name, snail mail address, URL, and
- The Web page describing the item you ordered
- Confirmation messages and any other e-mail from the seller
Also take notes on any phone conversations you have with
the seller or send and save an email confirmation of the phone
call. For more information on shopping safely online, check
out the Safe Shopping Site. Safe
As fishy as it sounds, it’s perfectly legal for Web
site owners to collect data about you and sell it to other
companies. When you shop online, the seller may be earning
twice from you: once on your purchase, and again by selling
information about you to other companies. They can sell your
name, address, and data on what sites you visit and what you
buy. The other companies use the information to market their
own products, resulting in more junk mail, spam, and telemarketing
calls for you. And we don’t know anyone who wants more
Selling information about people is not new and not limited
to the Internet: catalog companies sell your information to
other catalog companies, and even charities sell mailing lists
to other charities. The added twist on the Internet is that
companies can trace not only what you buy from them, but also
what other things you’re interested in, based on the
sites you visit.
How can you protect your privacy?
about you. Whether you’re shopping, filling in a free
registration form, registering a product, or entering a contest
you may be asked for information that can be sold. A privacy
policy should tell you what information is being gathered
about you, how the information will be used, and whether you
can choose how the information will be used.
Avoid "cookies." Cookies are small files that a
site puts on your hard drive to monitor where you go and what
you do. You can set up your navigator to accept all cookies,
refuse all cookies, or notify you when a cookie will be deposited
then allow you to accept or reject it.
- In Microsoft Internet Explorer, choose Tools, Internet
Options, Privacy. Move the slider to select a privacy setting
for the Internet Zone.
Remember: If you are surfing while at work or in any other
situation where you’re on a network or working through
a firewall, your employer or other network owner can also
trace where you’ve been on the Internet and how much
time you spent there. If you don’t want your boss to
know you went to a site, don’t go there at work.
Use passwords wisely.
- If you use a password to log on to your computer or a
network, don’t use that password for online orders.
Also, if you have any particularly sensitive passwords –
for a banking site, for example, use those passwords for
only that one function.
- Create passwords that are hard to guess. Don’t use
your name, address, birth date, phone number, or recognizable
words. Numbers and punctuation marks help make a password
difficult to guess. One way to create a password that is
easy to remember but hard to guess is to take the first
letter of each word in a sentence, movie, or song title
and add a number to it. The movie, The Road to El Dorado,
for example, could become TRTED75. Or try Snow White and
the Seven Dwarves: SWANT7D.
- If you have a hard time remembering passwords or keeping
them straight, you might have to write them down.
- Keep passwords near your computer
- Keep all your passwords in one place
- List the password and the site or function it belongs
to in the same place
Helpful On-line Resources
Below is a listing of some additional useful Web sites.
Gov for Consumers: Consumer information from the federal
Complaint Center: FBI and National White Collar
Crime Center partnership addressing fraud via the Internet.