Internet Safety I: Identity Theft

Posted September 3, 2008 in Internet Law by

Computer safety, and particularly internet safety, is a huge issue that only becomes more complex as more and more people do more online.  There are several dangers that need to be avoided and I’ll be talking about these in the next several posts.  The first one is identity theft.

The more we shop online or join social networking sites, the more we put our personal information out there.  Details as seemingly harmless as birth date or high school attended can be weapons in the hands of a thief and can help him steal your identity.  That said, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.

Avoid giving out too much information.  This goes for any site you visit.  If personal details are required of you, question why and what will be done to protect your privacy and security.

Only shop with retailers you trust.  Big name retailers such as Barnes and Noble have a lot to lose.  They will work harder to protect your security and their business.

Check with the Better Business Bureau.  If you have to buy something online from an unfamiliar retailer, see what other consumers and the Better Business Bureau have to say about them.  I know more than one person who has purchased a hard-to-find item online only to discover six weeks later that not only would they never see it, but also that the company they bought it from had disappeared.

Only make purchases on secure websites.  You should see an icon of a little padlock or some other indication at the bottom of your browser window when you are on a secure site.  The information you are sending is coded in such a way that it makes it harder to steal.

Buy a prepaid credit card.  Many grocery stores have kiosks that allow you to convert your coins to a cash voucher or load the money onto a prepaid credit card.  If you obtain one of these cards you can then control how much money is on the card and shop accordingly.  This way, if an identity thief grabs the credit card information, they won’t spend all your money, empty your bank account, or destroy your credit.

If given the choice, don’t set up an account that stores your payment information.  Not every site allows you to do this, but whenever possible make sure that the site does not store your payment information for return visits. 

Protect your account if you have one.  If you do have to set up an account and your personal information is kept on file, do what you can to protect it.  This includes changing your password frequently, never giving it out to anybody, and never leaving yourself logged in (or allowing the site to log you in automatically when you visit).  Coworkers, friends, and relatives might enjoy using your Ebay or Amazon account, but you’ll end up footing the bill.

As with everything you do with your computer, think before you click.  With a few safety precautions, you can help protect your financial security.

Next Up:  Internet Safety II: Kids and Predators

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