October 29, 2008, 7:27 PM — Over 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that in 2007, the highest category of complaints was identity theft; attributing 32% of total complaints received to the category. Consumers reported fraud losses totaling more than $1.2 billion, almost double that of 2005.
Over 245 million data records of US residents have been exposed due to security breaches since 2005. Recently, the Department of Justice charged hackers and identity thieves in what is considered to be the â€œsingle largest and most complex identity theft case ever charged in this country,â€ according to Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Shopping online safely helps prevent identity theft. Here are some basic security tips to prevent identity theft while online:
1. Download Updates. Do click "Update Now" when you receive security updates from Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe; Don't avoid these updates that arm you with the latest fixes before starting to shop. Web application exploits are very common now and can harm you if you simply go to a bad website.
2. Create Complex Passwords. Do mix letter cases and use at least seven characters when placing an order online; Donâ€™t choose a word from a dictionary. Passwords are guessed very quickly by hacker programs.
3. Thwart Hackers. Do use your wireless router's security features when surfing the web; Donâ€™t let hackers join your network where they can try to listen in on your shopping experience. Hackers can use network sniffers to eavesdrop on you.
4. Use Onetime Credit Cards. Do shop online using a virtual credit card that expires after one use; Donâ€™t use your actual credit card numbers on less familiar websites. Some websites masquerade as shops but really just steal your credit card numbers.
5. Verify Secure Connections. Do make sure the padlock symbol in your browser's status bar shows that you have a secure connection when conducting online financial transactions; Donâ€™t press submit if there is no padlock at a store. Padlocks represent an SSL connection, which protects any information you send.
6. Check Your Credit. Do visit annualcreditreport.com before and after the holidays; Donâ€™t wait until you receive a bill for a credit card that isnâ€™t really yours. Your credit report shows all your accounts and overdue balances.
7. Lock Up Your Passwords. Do use a password manager to save all your passwords; Donâ€™t save passwords in your web browser without a master password to protect them. Password managers encrypt all of your passwords with a master password so you only have to remember the one.
8. Enter Web Addresses Manually. Do go directly to a storeâ€™s website by typing its address into your web browser manually if you plan to buy something; Donâ€™t click on links from an email message. These are known as phishing attacks and are very common.
9. Shop From Your Terminal. Do shop online using your own computer; Donâ€™t shop online using a public computer at a hotel or airport. Public computers can have spyware that records your information as you type it.
10. Communicate Securely. Do call a business and read them your credit card information if you trust them and want to buy a present for someone; Donâ€™t e-mail or instant message personal information. E-mail and instant messenger are insecure.