Holiday online shopping risks can be reduced

Consumers should take steps to reduce their risk of having their personal details stolen

Santa Claus may take online orders this year, but the Grinches will also be on the Internet.

Holiday shopping online is expected to reach new peaks this year, and with the surge comes concern over the safety of transactions, according to technology services company EDS and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), both of which have issued guidelines for Web shoppers.

U.S. shoppers are expected to buy about 25 percent of their holiday goods online this year, with a typical shopper spending nearly US$800, according to the National Retail Federation. But various vendors and consumer groups have issued warnings for online shoppers because a likelihood of fraud accompanies the increase of buying online. Internet-related fraud cost an estimated US$340 million last year, the FTC said.

EDS and the FTC cautioned that online shoppers should:

  • Know your retailer. Stick with reputable businesses with contact numbers and physical addresses. Some Web sites display seals that vouch for their security, but these can also be faked.
  • Use secure Web sites. Sites that use encryption to protect data should display "https://" rather than "http://" in the address bar. Secure sites should also display a padlock symbol to show that the Web site has a secure, encrypted connection. EDS advises against sending a retailer more information than they need to complete a purchase.
  • Be aware of phishing e-mail. Most people have received fraudulent e-mail asking for personal information. Never send information and never click on links in such e-mails, which are likely to be directed to look-alike Web sites designed to harvest identity and financial details. It's safe to type a Web site address into a browser. Reputable businesses do not ask for information through e-mails.
  • Review privacy and security policies. Most companies will tell you what information they collect and how they use it. Also, foreign Web sites may be bound by different laws for how they can handle your personal information.
  • Use antivirus and firewall software.
  • Check your credit report and credit card balances regularly.

The FTC Web site has a page devoted to holiday shopping tips, including those for online shoppers.

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