In today’s world where identity theft is an all too real possibility, the internet is certainly one of the major contributors to this type of crime. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the US with millions of Americans being affected every year. The internet, while an important vehicle for identity thieves, is also a great resource for how to help prevent it. I’m not here to provide you with all the information you need to protect yourself because I am simply not qualified to do so. I will, however, provide you with a great number of tips and ideas to make shopping on the web as safe as possible. If you feel the urge to go beyond these tips, I recommend starting with the Federal Trade Commission website at: FTC. From there, there are numerous other resources from books to insurance policies that you can purchase to help protect you against the growing crime of identity theft.
I believe you can be safe shopping on the web simply by being smart when shopping on web. Over the years I have developed a set of habits that not only make my online shopping safer, but quicker and easier as well.
- SEPARATE EMAIL ADDRESS FOR MEMBERSHIPS: As you embark on your shopping adventure you are going to encounter websites that require you to “register” in order to participate or even read all the content they have to offer. Registration is usually free and if it is not, don’t waste your money. Any sites offering information for a “fee” are generally not offering anything different than the free sites. The only thing you need in order to register for the free sites is an email address. I recommend setting up a complete separate email address for any sites that you register for related to shopping, sales and deals. This can be done a number of ways. If you happen to have your own hosting space and can set up multiple addresses from your domain, you can do it that way, but you may be exposing your domain to spam should you sign up with a not so trustworthy site. Or you can register for a free email address from Google (gmail), Yahoo or any of the other free email services out there. Personally I prefer Yahoo because they allow you to have up to 500 “disposable” email addresses that you can delete and create new ones at your discretion. This feature is available to AT&T Yahoo customers or for I believe $19.99/yr. This allows a layer of protection by not exposing your main address to the world. It also provides you an opportunity to register at sites you are not sure of with a complete separate address and delete it later if the site turns out to be less than helpful. Here is a list of other “disposable” email services: Top 9 Disposable Email Address Services – About.com although I’m not sure that they are free, you’ll have to research that for yourself. Please note that the sites I am referring to in this section are not actual store sites or anything associated with actual purchases. The sites I refer to in this section are online resources, forums, newsletters, coupons, etc. to help you find the best deals across the web. We will deal with tips for registering an account for an online store in the next section.
SEPARATE EMAIL ADDRESS FOR PURCHASES: Creating an account/registering with an online store is a little different from registering for resource type sites, especially when you consider sites that are associated with actual retail stores. There is an inherent level of trust. For the most part, you can feel free to use your regular email address to create accounts with online stores. As long as you do your research (I get into that later) and you know the store is legitimate you can feel comfortable using your regular email address. That being said, in order to keep things organized and not have an important email such as a purchase receipt, delivery status or other official email from one of these stores end up in your spam folder, you might want to consider a separate email address just for purchases. I would not recommend using a disposable email address, in fact, you want to make sure you use a main email address in order to be able to ensure you get all the correspondence sent from the store. Google’s GMail is a good email service to use for this purpose. The way it is organized is very helpful to label and keep track of your emails. Ofcourse, if all these different addresses are too much for you to be able to effectively deal with, you can certainly forego this step as I mentioned earlier and use your standard email address for online store registrations.
USE A SEPARATE CREDIT CARD: One effective method for eliminating the chance for fraud on your credit card is to obtain a card with a low limit to be used exclusively for your online purchases. It will be very easy to keep track that way and to make sure all charges on your bill are, in fact, your own. By the way, I’m not endorsing credit cards, I actually despise them and the havoc they have wreaked on our culture, but I believe that for online shopping, having at least one is a necessary evil. Please, just pay it off each month if you can. Another effective method for eliminating the chance for fraud is to use a “disposable” credit card number, or “one-time use” number. I know that American Express and Discover Card both have these options. Essentially you have your main account and you can then request at any time a “one-time use” number that, while still associated with your main account, cannot be stolen by hackers because it can only be used once. I believe you can request the numbers online and receive them immediately through your online credit card account so it is not a difficult process. The bottom line with a credit card transaction online is that as long as you are using a reputable bank, your purchases are protected and they remove any fraudulent charges to your card.
GET A PAYPAL ACCOUNT: A Paypal account is a free service that allows you to pay online for free without exposing your payment information to a bunch of different places. Only Paypal has your info and you use your Paypal account to make payments at retailers who accept it. It is very secure and quick and easy. All you have to do is link it to a bank account or credit card. Not all online retailers accept Paypal – yet, but it’s growing every day and for making purchases on EBay it is the BEST way to do business. You can set up your free account at: Paypal.com. Paypal occasionally has specials going where if you make a minimum purchase through your Paypal Account you get cash back. It sometimes takes a few months to see the cash back, but they do pay it. Some merchants also offered an immediate discount for making a purchase with your Paypal account. As the holidays approach, be on the lookout for these discounts.
GET A GOOGLE CHECKOUT ACCOUNT: A Google Checkout account is similar to Paypal account and is a free service that allows you to pay online for free without exposing your payment information to a bunch of different places. Only Google Checkout has your info and you use your Google Checkout account to make payments at retailers who accept it. It is very secure and quick and easy. All you have to do is link it to a bank account or credit card. Not all online retailers accept Google Checkout – yet, but it’s growing every day. You can set up your free account at: Google Checkout. In 2006, when Google Checkout was new they were offering fantastic discounts on all purchases made using your Google Checkout Account. In most cases it was $10 off a $30 purchase or $20 off a $50 purchase. Combined with the other great deals, this discount saved me a ton of money last Christmas. I recommend setting up an account and being ready for it. Currently, if you sign up through Buy.com, your first purchase through Google Checkout will get you $10 off. But you must sign up for Google Checkout through Buy.com to get the $10 off. The discounts through Google Checkout are usually instantaneous.
USE A FORM FILLING SOFTWARE: Using a software that automatically fills our registration forms and remembers log-in information for the sites you frequent, is a HUGE time saver. You can set up different profiles depending upon the type of site you are registering for. For example, I provide more detailed information to shopping sites than I do just for miscellaneous online resources thatsimply do not need my address and phone number. It will also save credit card numbers and fill them in automatically if you are so inclined. The software will also suggest passwords for you when creating a log-in registration that are geared to be strong passwords to prevent someone from guessing it. Then the program will save the associated log-in info to a “passcard”. Each time you visit a site and go to log-in, you can set the program to automatically “pop-up” the associated log-in for that site and all you have to do is click “fill” and it will fill it in for you. You can also password protect the program to prevent others who may use your computer from having access to your information. There may be others, but the specific software I am referring to is called Roboform. You can download a 100% free copy of the basic version from Roboform.com. If you’d like to go ahead and get the full version, you can do that using the link here.
From their website, the following are a list of key Roboform features:
Easy to Use – You remember one password, RoboForm remembers the
Saves Time – With ONE CLICK RoboForm goes to a website and logs
you in automatically.
Saves More Time – RoboForm also fills long registration and
checkout forms with one click.
Secures Your Information – Stores passwords on YOUR computer,
protects them with AES encryption.
Strengthens Passwords – Generates random passwords that hackers
- Fights Phishing – Fills passwords only on matching web sites.
Defeats Keyloggers – Does not require using keyboard to type
- Simple to Use – Just download RoboForm and learn as you go.
The basic version includes a limited number of passcards (unique individual log-ins) which I believe is 30. The Pro version, which you can upgrade to for $29.99 has the following features:
The disclaimer (has to be said):
I am providing this information free of cost or obligation. The information contained here is based upon my experiences and opinions and I cannot guarantee everyone will have similar experiences. I cannot be held responsible for any activity that you choose to participate in related to online shopping, including but not limited to, personal information, email spam, identity theft, purchase guarantees, etc. Any recommendations that I have made are simply my opinion and are not implied to hold me responsible for your purchase activities and/or customer satisfaction. Bottom line, anything you do with this information is at your own risk. I am not responsible for any actions you take to utilize this information.