The risks for online and in-store shopping have been on the rise, according to Robert Vamosi, a security, risk and fraud analyst for Javelin Strategy & Research. He said that among all fraud victims in 2009, misuse from online purchases rose to 42% from 37% in 2008 and 28% in 2007, matching the amount of fraud misuse from in-store purchases.This year, buyers can help prevent fraud by taking the following five precautions:
- Don't sign the back of credit cards: Steve Schwartz, a vice president at Intersections Inc., a consumer and corporate identity theft protection service company, suggests shoppers print "Please ask for my ID" on the signature spot of cards. He said that this requires the sales associate to compare the card against another form of identity to verify the right person is using it. Pictures are a lot harder to forge than signatures.
- Be wary of giving personal information: Schwartz said that cyber thieves are developing sophisticated Trojans that grab users' bank account and credit card information, disable security software and use bank accounts by pretending to be the owner. The best way to avoid this form of theft is to make sure that the website used is legitimate. He said that one way to do this is to look for an "s" after the "http" beginning of websites. Also, avoid any sites with an open padlock icon at the bottom of the screen, which indicates that the website is not secure. Schwartz also recommends software, such as IDVault, to securely store logins and passwords. "Additionally," said Vamosi, "Online shoppers can limit their losses by using prepaid credit cards for purchases, or by obtaining from the card issuer, temporary or virtual credit card numbers. For example, CitiBank, Bank of America, and Discover offer these."
- Protect computers: Upload and update virus protection programs before online shopping. Schwartz said, "The best way to avoid Trojans [identity-stealing malware] is to (a) not open attachments or click on email links; (b) be careful where you surf and stick to online 'neighborhoods' where you really feel safe; and (c) regularly patch your computer and update your anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software."
- Look over receipts: Schwartz warns in-store shoppers to make sure that receipts only show the first four digits of credit card numbers. The rest should be encrypted. If this isn't the case, shoppers should take a moment to cross out the rest of the numbers. A fully exposed credit card number is an easy target for thieves.
- Double check after the shopping frenzy: After the holiday buying spree has come to an end, Schwartz suggests that consumers check personal credit reports and credit card and bank statements to make sure that they conducted each transaction listed. Each in-store and online purchase opens up a different risk so double checking finances at the end of the season is, not only smart, but necessary. "Identity theft peaks this time of year," said Schwartz. "Wallets are stolen, credit cards are accidentally left behind, and online fraudsters are ready to prey on their next victims, but there are simple steps consumers can take to avoid making careless decisions that can have a long-term effect on their financial well-being."