Need to Know: Keeping Your Financial Info Safe on the Internet


by Barbara J. Feldman on July 10, 2007

The Internet has introduced the world to a new and highly convenient way to bring consumers and retailers together. Internet shopping is a livelihood for millions of Internet retailers and a lifestyle for many consumers. Yet Internet retailers are not yet satisfied with the number of people who choose to do business online. In large part this is due to the fact that people do not trust websites with their valuable financial information. There is fear, or at least apprehension, when you do not know who may be sitting on the receiving end of your social security number or credit card information.

So what can you do to keep your credit card information safe on the web? Take heart; there are many more people who have never had problems with identity theft or fraudulent charges than there are who have fallen victim to the dishonest people of the world. There are ways that you can protect both your credit and your peace of mind when you take advantage of the opportunities available to you online. Below you will find a list of things that you can do to keep your credit card information safe when you are on the web:

• Shop from only reputable companies (preferably those that have brick and mortar establishments that you can physically go to if there is a problem with a product or transaction) or choose the companies you shop from based on referrals from people with financial decisions that you trust.
• A common symbol that you may find on a retail site is a lock and key or a padlock. These symbols indicate that the website you are visiting has specific security measures in place.
• Don’t walk away from your computer while in the middle of a transaction. Someone could easily look over your shoulder and see the valuable information that you have left on the screen.
• Check the company’s guarantee policy and return procedures. The company should have some way for you to return an unsatisfactory product or to reimburse you in the event of fraudulent charges. If no such policies are in place, it may be better not do business with that particular company.
• Read and understand companies’ privacy policies. Unless you do not care if your personal information is shared with other companies, you will want to know what the company you are working with intends to do with your info.

• Use “strong passwords.” Strong passwords are passwords that are not easy to guess or to figure out even if the thief knows a lot about you. A good example of a bad password would be your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or first name. A strong password would be a combination of upper and lowercase letters, a number and a symbol…such as the number sign.
• Maintain a record of your purchase transactions and dates of delivery. Keep confirmation numbers and order numbers for future reference. Follow-up when items are late or information is incorrect.
• Be wary of anything that tries to alter your dial-up Internet access.
• If buying from an online auction, make sure the seller has positive feedback from other buyers. And if making larger purchases, you may consider paying the seller through a reputable escrow service.
• Antivirus protection and firewalls help to keep hackers out of your private business when you are on the computer.
• Never give anyone your user ID, PIN or password, even if they appear to be a representative of a trusted firm. A financial institution will never solicit this information from you. If you think the request may be legitimate, call or go into your bank to verify that they do need the information requested. Give this to them in person, not online.
• A common financial fraud trick, often called phishing, is to send an email that appears to come from a bank, credit card or other trusted company. These fake requests will often ask you to update your security information and in doing so, you would have released valuable information to possible identity thieves.
• Always type the web address of trusted websites into the browser yourself. Don’t click on links in emails, as they may not lead you where they say they will. A good rule of thumb is to not enter personal or financial information unless the web address starts with ‘https://’, and there is a small padlock in the frame of the web browser window.
• If an email offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Don’t give out personal information unless you initiated the contact, and you are sure you know who you’re dealing with.


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