Online Shopping Can Compromise Your Identity

By Ryan Smith ·

Last year, identity theft raked as the number one consumer complaint category with 1.3 million people falling victim to the crime, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As e-commerce sales continue to increase (Forrester Research has forecasted a 10 percent compound annual growth rate through 2014, rising from $155 billion in 2009 to $250 billion), so does the opportunity for cyber criminals looking to make a quick buck. And, what better time than the online holiday shopping season?

You know that flood of retail promotions you’ve been receiving via email?  Think twice before you click to open. Some may be legitimate, but others may be coming from unscrupulous individuals who want to steal your personal data.

Here are three tips that can help you keep that deal of a lifetime from turning into a headache of a lifetime:

  1. Make sure that the name of the Web site is properly spelled and the end contains a period, the real name of the company followed by ".com" - In order to fool consumers, thieves will register Web sites with look-alike names. Similar to knock-off handbags, every Web site requires a more detailed inspection to ensure that it's authentic. Make sure the Web site address in the URL bar ends with ".company.com," where “company” is the correctly spelled name of the company.  If it doesn't, you may have a knock-off Web site in your browser window.
  2. Look for a blue or green URL bar at the top of your browser - When a company has gone through extra verification steps to set up their Web site, your browser will let you know by shading a portion of the URL bar either green or blue.  This proves that there's a real company behind the Web site and not a criminal stealing your financial information.
  3. Make sure you have the latest Web browser plug-ins - Have you been getting a popup reminding you to update a piece of software?  It’s a great idea to activate that update before you begin or continue your shopping. An attacker can much more easily take control of your computer when your software is out of date.
Most importantly, when shopping for holiday gifts, follow your gut. If a deal SEEMS too good to be true, it probably IS too good to be true. Street sense is sometimes all you need to ensure that you're not going to be the next victim of a crime.  Companies stay in business by making profits or breaking even and few people are willing to sell anything below the going market rate.  Although certain deals can be enticing, avoid them if they seem to be too good.