Protect yourself while
You can buy anything online, but be careful with your
purchases and accounts. While you're browsing Internet retailers
for ... say ... a kitchen sink, unseen agents can peek at your secure
information and send your privacy right down the drain.
"There's lots of things people can do to protect themselves,"
says Larry Sontag, the Seattle-based author of It's none of
Experts explain their security measures with words
like "encryption" and "firewalls," but for most people, that stuff
is as easy to understand as ancient Sanskrit. Here's a translation
of basic measures to protect your privacy and your wallet.
Read privacy statements before
you do business with a Web site. A privacy statement is a legally
binding agreement that explains the site's practices when it
comes to sharing your information. If the site does not have
a privacy statement, don't do business with them.
Only shop with secure servers.
Unfortunately, no site is hack-proof. But if you're going to
shop online, a secure server is your best line of defense against
a hack attack. A padlock or key at the bottom of your screen
notes a secure server. Also, check the URL. If the address has
changed from http to https, you're on a secure server.
Look for a seal of approval.
Much like The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, Internet sites
now use outside agents such as
VeriSign or bizrate.com, to monitor their sites
for privacy violations.
Use a standard credit card
when making online purchases. If there is a theft, the culprit
won't be able to drain your checking account to its bare bones.
Also, thanks to a federal law, you're only liable for $50 worth
of purchases made with a stolen credit card number.
Never send cash or a check
as payment. You will not have a good paper trail if something
Use your discretion. If you're
not sure about sharing information on a site or you're not sure
about their practices, don't make the purchase. It's that simple.
These are standard security procedures, but Sontag
worries these steps are not enough. He suggests that while browsing
online, you pick up the phone and call customer service to place
your order. The company that distributes his book doesn't even take
Sontag goes even further when he advises you forgo
using a credit card for a debit card. Though you're only liable
for $50 worth of stolen purchases with either one, if hackers get
hold of your standard credit card number, they can request to have
the credit limit extended to fit their needs. Debit cards, however,
bottom out quickly. The culprits can only get as far as the amount
of money in your checking account. Sontag also suggests you keep
a low balance in the checking account and make a deposit just before
you make a purchase.
eOodles and eBoodles of protection
eBoodle is a service that makes browsing the Net more secure.
This free software, downloaded onto your computer, remembers your
sign-in name and password for each site you visit.
"If you're like most people, you fall into the bad
habit of using the same password information in every site so you
can remember them. But a bad guy can remember them, too," says Todd
Lowdon, vice president of business development for eBoodle, in Mountain
View, Calif. "We make it easier to use different passwords. You
don't have to remember your passwords because we remember them for
eBoodle also allows you to save your credit card numbers
and address on their servers for one-click shopping. Again, no site
is hack-proof, but Lowdon says his service is much more secure than
storing your information on your personal computer or using the
same passwords on each site you visit. What's more, if your information
is hacked and it's eBoodle's fault, they promise to refund your
An additional line of defense is WebAssured. WebAssured has
several ways to help protect you from E-commerce fraud. Merchants
become members of the WebAssured partnership, and, therefore, they
must meet certain privacy and moral standards set by WebAssured.
Lloyd's of London insures WebAssured transactions. If you're burned
by one of their merchants, WebAssured will refund your money directly.
They also offer a new service called
ShopAssured. Downloaded to your computer, ShopAssured browses
the Internet marketplace with you. It supplies background information
on companies, including a merchant's official name, address, phone
number, contact, whether the company is a WebAssured member, and
any complaint history that is registered with WebAssured.
"You know about the site before you take the risk,"
says Travis Morgan, president and chief financial officer for WebAssured,
in Carmel, Ind. If you get burned by a merchant, you can register
a complaint online with the Automated Dispute Resolution System.
The complaint is automatically forwarded to the merchant and WebAssured
steps in to mediate a reasonable solution. WebAssured services are
The next time you're ready to log on and shop 'til
your Internet connection drops, keep in mind that just as you'd
protect your wallet in the mall, you have to protect yourself on
the World Wide Web.
-- Posted: Feb. 24, 2000