With the arrival of Thanksgiving, shoppers are constantly warned to avoid identity theft and fraud during “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving considered the official kick-off to the holiday shopping season. For “Cyber Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend when shoppers return to work and start their holiday shopping online – and which became the biggest online shopping day in history and the first to surpass the billion-dollar threshold in November 2010 – nonprofit consumer information and advocacy organization Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) offers the following 10 tips to protect online shoppers from identity theft and fraud.

  • Never use a debit card (check card) online since once debit card information is compromised, funds can be withdrawn from  bank accounts without the owner’s knowledge. Banks can take up to two weeks to investigate fraudulent activity before returning the funds to accounts under federal law which can make it impossible to conduct normal day-to-day financial activities. 
  • Use a virtual or single-use credit card that can be used online since they use randomly generated substitute account numbers in place of actual credit card numbers.
  • Only shop at secure sites that display “https://” at the top of the screen in the website’s address since the “s” indicates that the site encrypts information being transferred from home computers to merchants.
  • Read the online merchant’s Privacy Policy to find out if information will be shared with other businesses or affiliated companies, if addresses will be used to send junk mail or spam, and if the online merchant are members of a program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices.
  • Never give out information that is not necessary to process an order that can be used by the merchant and other businesses for marketing purposes or be used by the merchant to engage in price discrimination in the future. Never give out a Social Security number.
  • Never “recycle” a password since password-protected sites are becoming more vulnerable because people often use the same user names and passwords on numerous sites.
  • Sign up for credit card alerts for real-time communications about changes to credit card accounts, email notification about bills due, and posted transactions.
  • Print, save, or take a screen capture of order confirmation that includes the cost of the order, shipping and handling charges, customer information, product information, and confirmation number. 
  • Be cautious when entering payment information at a Wi-Fi hotspot since most Wi-Fi hotspots are unsecured and unencrypted and hackers can intercept network traffic to steal credit card numbers and other sensitive information.
  • Know an employer’s policy regarding personal use of company computers since much of “Cyber Monday” shopping occurs at workplace computers and employers can monitor use of computers by employees.  

Established in 1992 and based in San Diego, California, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) is a nonprofit consumer organization that serves to raise awareness of how technology affects personal privacy and empower consumers to take action to control their own personal information by providing practical tips on privacy protection. For more information, visit https://www.privacyrights.org/.

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