Around the holidays, online shopping always picks up — more and more, year after year. It's the time of the season for buyers to fill up their virtual carts and whip out their credit cards to get that package of merriment in the mail, pronto.
Clearly, we as consumers have become increasingly comfortable with online transactions. Long gone are the days of cold sweating at the thought of putting one's personal information on the web (the 1995 Sandra Bullock thriller "The Net" may remind one of the potent fears that surrounded Internet users back then). But there's something we have to remember: giving out private information like credit card numbers is always a risk, and unfortunately, many holiday shoppers will fall prey to fraud and other scams if they aren't prudent.
Like pickpockets roaming the crowds of Times Square, thieves prowl the Internet for a naive shopper all too eager to shell out personally identifiable information (PII). A new survey by Identity Theft 911, a provider of personal-touch identity management solutions, identity theft recovery services, breach services and data risk management solutions for businesses, shows that while most online shoppers are aware of the risks and wish to avoid them, they aren't doing a good job of fortifying themselves against the dangers, which are especially prevalent during the Christmas rush.
More than half of survey respondents said they would provide personal information that is not typically needed to complete a transaction, like a Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or birth date. This seems rather ridiculous, considering that 82 percent of respondents admitted to being "very concerned" about the risk of identity theft during online shopping.
In addition to the obvious (not supplying social security numbers), shoppers should make sure they're making a purchase on the intended site. They may log on to eBay but then be re-routed to a scammer site without even knowing it. They should look carefully at the names of the site's URL. Just like those faux designer handbags that are engineered to fool, like a subtle tweaking of the spelling of "Louis Vuitton," fraudulent websites may implement the same technique.
Look at every single letter and punctuation mark in the URL before giving them any information. Other precautions to take include reviewing a site’s "Contact Us" info, browsing through the terms & conditions (if the site doesn't have this disclosure, avoid it altogether). IDentity Theft 911 offers many more tips for a safe shopping season, but basically: be careful to the point of seeming paranoid. You can never be too safe.
Edited by Alisen Downey