Protecting Your Identity Online

Here are a few tips to keep your identity and finances safe while shopping online.
  1. Build a Wall
    Make sure your anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software is up to date and activated on your computer. Run a quick scan before and after purchasing an item online.
  2. Open Sesame
    Place strong passwords (that means using letters, numbers and symbols – i.e. 78G!X3@) on your computers and on your online bank, investment and credit card accounts.

    WHN READER TIP: Manage Them!

    A good program out there for password management is Any Password. It generates better passwords than standard text ones and it lets you create folders to organize passwords in categories. You can also use the password generator to create usernames for certain sites such as banks and credit card companies.

  3. Separate Accounts
    Consider having two e-mail addresses — one for personal use and another for web newsletters, your shopping e- mail accounts, promotions and other activities. It’s easier to sort through the spam.
  4. Something’s "Phishy"
    If you receive an e-mail that looks EXACTLY like your bank, a credit card or other company and it gives you some reason to update your information, DO NOT DO IT. Internet thieves use this to gather personal and financial information (this practice is often called "phishing".)
    • Still not sure? call your bank, credit card or whatever company supposedly sent the e-mail and ask them if it is 'for real.' It probably isn't.....
  5. One Card Rule
    Use one credit card for online shopping. Why? In the event your credit or charge card is used without your knowledge and permission, you generally are liable for no more than $50 in charges per card.

    WHN TIP: Credit Card Consistency

    Use the same credit card each time you shop online. That way if you see an online charge for one of your other cards, like a debit card, you’ll know someone else is using your card.

  6. Bestseller
    Choose a well-known and reputable retailer such as a site that allows customers to post online reviews.
    • Check with the Better Business Bureau for a report about the retailer's marketplace record.
    • Confirm an online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you need to get in touch with them.
    • Read the site's privacy policy to understand what information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn't one posted, consider that a warning that your personal information may be sold to others without your permission.
    • Also read about their shipping dates and return policies.
  7. Data Entry
    Do not input your personal information, SSN, credit card or other financial account numbers at a web site unless it offers a secure transaction. A secure or “encrypted” transaction will have these two features:
    • An icon of a lock appears in the bottom strip of the Web browser page.
    • How do you tell? The URL address for the web page changes from “http” to “https” for the page where you fill in personal info.

    WHN TIP: Better Business Bureau:

    If you have doubts about a site, right-click anywhere on the page and select "Properties." This shows the real URL (Web site address) and the dialog box will give site details (encryption, certificates, etc.)

  8. Keep a Paper Trail
    Make sure to print (or save in a folder) all confirmation pages and order receipts. At most sites you either get or can request an e-mail receipt or confirmation of the order and an email confirmation that the order has been shipped.

    WHN READER TIP: Order Confirmation Idea

    Copy the page with your order BEFORE you click the confirm order button. Paste the copied page in to a Word document and save it in a file on your computer. Then, add the order confirmation number at the bottom of the order.

    WHN TIP: Paper Shredders!

    Shred all paper documents that have your personal and financial information before throwing them away.

    Additional Resources

    • Federal Trade Commission
      Helpful online shopping tips from the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission regulates other credit card and debit card issuers.
    • Safe Shopping
      This informational site, created by the American Bar Association, will help you order safely when shopping online. You'll find cyber-shopping is fast, convenient and opens up a whole new world of merchandise and services for you and your family. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.

      Updated: 5/2009