Computer Security For The Internet Shopper.
So we’ve all heard about how dangerous the internet is and how much everyone wants to steal your identity, right? I don’t know why they’d want my identity, how many people are insane enough to want to live in the woods and have five jobs anyway? But when we speak of that in particular, ‘identity theft’, we’re talking about someone stealing your personal information for malicious purposes. Namely a credit card number or password that gets them access to say, your bank account, or in the case of the great TJ Maxx scandal of last year, 45.7 million cardmember’s information was compromised. That’s no joke, 45.7 million people.
So what do we do? First relax. A lot of fuss has been made, and for legitimate reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the computer is any less safe than shopping at your local market. The safest way to shop online is still with a credit card. In the event that something does go wrong, you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are only responsible for the first $50 in charges. You are rarely asked to pay this charge. But for those of us who like to shop online, and I am certainly among you, the most important thing to look for when shopping is a secure website. This is made obvious by the inclusion of https:// in front of it’s address instead of the http:// found everywhere else. Sometimes you’ll find that the https:// does not show up until the site is actually asking for information and that’s just fine, so long as it shows up before you hit the send button. It is also evidenced in most browsers by a lock symbol. In Safari on a mac, it’s in the upper right corner, in Firefox, it’s on the lower right corner, and in the newest version of Explorer it’s right in the address bar, which goes so far as to turn green if the page is secure. Many sites say that they are secure, but unless it has that ‘s’ for security after http, they’re lying. Tell them I said so and don’t even think about giving them a credit card number much less an email address that they will invariably send emails to advertising how much bigger all of your parts can be.
Beyond the ‘s’, what else can you do? Sign up for an account with Paypal or Google Checkout. They are both widely accepted, trusted, and free. They offer excellent security in that the vendor never even sees your credit information, just a payment to their account. That’s secure. What else? Let’s make that horrific junk email slow down a bit by creating a purchasing email address. Using a free email address from Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail is a great way to add security. Just sign up for an extra one that is NOT the email you use for friends and such. Use it to sign up for coupon codes, offers and the like. You can still check them for payments specifically or for the coupons you may have just received that will save you $1.23 on that lifetime supply of toast you’ve been thinking about.
So let’s take it further, shall we? Research the site before buying anything. I’m not saying call all of your friends and get their opinions, but I rather like websites that are rated by real people, that made real purchases. Where can we find this information? Well, here’s a shopping tip for you. Use Google. ‘Google Product Search’ to be specific. Search for any old item you may want to purchase on google, and then hit the ‘shopping’ link at the top of the page. You’ll notice that the merchants that come up in the results have seller ratings. That’s just good common sense to spend the extra dollar with the vendor that has 3000+ positive remarks instead of the 4 people who said that ‘Carl seemed okay…’ at the competitor. There are lots of other places to research your purchasing; www.cnet.com has excellent product reviews and vendor reviews. Once I bought my wife a camera at Circuit City, but not before going over to the computer section to look up the camera’s review on cnet. True story. But that’s not security, that’s just educated shopping, which is about as secure as it gets.
And so we end this weeks column feeling safer and happy in our consumerism. Just remember to never give out your social security number and tell them as little information as possible. They don’t really need to know what color your shorts are do they?
Colby Dix is the co-owner of Vermont Geeks and buys far too many things online.