Making Secure Transactions Online
In today’s increasingly connected world, we may find ourselves wanting to use a computer away from our home. As any traveler can attest, computer kiosks are in every airport and in many coffee shops.
Additionally, wireless networks are everywhere, many of them free or available for a small fee. This easy availability of computers and networks makes it very easy to make purchases online, check your email, chat with friends, or even balance your check book from just about anywhere.
That being said, lurking in the back of your mind as you reach for the mouse on one of these machines is (or should be) a fundamental question. “Can someone steal my information if I use this computer?”
The answer is “YES!”
Since you cannot know what software or hardware has been installed on these computers, it is impossible to be 100% sure that someone has not installed something that will capture your username and password or other account information. Any computer that you do not own or control should be used with caution.
Tips for Safe Online Shopping
- Avoid public places and networks.
Don’t do online transactions when you’re using public wireless networks. It’s safer to buy online at home. When you conduct business in public places using wireless connections such as motels, airports, coffee shops, and bookstores, you take a chance of someone seeing your laptop screen, stealing personal information. What’s more, an intruder could grab the sensitive information you send over the wireless network.
- Don’t use public computers.
Because public computers may have programs that log keystrokes (keyloggers), as well as other spywares that snatch sensitive information, wait to make your Internet transactions until you get home.
- Use credit cards instead of debit.
Debit transactions are riskier than credit transactions because a criminal can immediately drain your bank account. The money is spent quickly, so the theft is harder to fight. On the other hand, a credit card theft is not as disastrous, as your credit card company can help you resolve the matter. Use the same credit card if you have more than one. If you still have reservations about giving out your credit card number online, then use third-party escrow services such as PayPal.
- Don’t share SSN and/or birth date information.
Usually legitimate Web sites won’t ask you to give out personal information such as your Social Security number (SSN) and/or birth date. By giving out both your birth date and SSN, criminals have enough data to apply for new credit cards in your name.
- Keep accurate records.
Always keep accurate, detailed records of any online transactions. This way you’ll have evidence of your purchase if problems occur.
- Use updated anti-virus programs.
Be sure your computer is secured with updated anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software.
Detecting a Safe Web Site
Make sure you shop only at secure Web sites that use encryption. If the Web site uses encryption technology to transfer your information on your computer (such as credit card and bank account information) to an online merchant’s computer, your information is scrambled so computer hackers can’t steal it. Fortunately, the only people able to unscramble the code are those with legitimate access privileges.
Look for the “s” following “http” in a web address, indicating it’s safe. However, realize you often you don’t see the “https” until you move onto the site’s order page.
Closed padlock display
The closed padlock display is at the bottom of your screen (on the browser’s status bar). If that lock is open, you should stay away from that site, as it may not be a secure site.
An unbroken key also designates a secure site.
Strange web address
If a web address has a string of numbers at the beginning of the URL, be suspicious because this isn’t an address you’d typically see for a reputable company.