8 Tips for Protecting Your Identity Online

Here are a few tips to keep your identity and finances safe while shopping online.

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.

Use Strong Passwords

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.

Have 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.

Know When 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…..

Follow the 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.

Shop at Reputable Sites

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.

Don’t Over-Share

Do not input your personal information, SSN, credit card or other financial account numbers at a website 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 – Check the URL: 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.)

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 into 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 – Use a Paper Shredder! Shred all paper documents that have your personal and financial information before throwing them away.


For More Information

Federal Trade Commission: Shopping Online — has helpful tips for shopping online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates other credit card and debit card issuers.

American Bar Association: Safe Shopping — an informational site with tips for safely shopping online. 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.