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Just a few decades ago, most of us couldn't conceive of buying items online. The biggest concern was privacy - if we entered our credit card information to make a purchase, we worried that a "hacker" would steal it and go on a spending spree.

Since the introduction of encryption software, most websites can offer assurances that your credit card information is safe. Encryption scrambles the information you send, such as your credit card number, so that anyone without legitimate access can't misuse the data. And of course, you have the same protection with online purchases as with any others - the Fair Credit Billing Act limits your responsibility for fraudulent credit card purchases to $50.

Online Shopping on the Rise

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail e-commerce sales rose from $89.8 billion for the fourth quarter of 2015 to an estimated $102.7 billion for the fourth quarter of 2016. As consumers become more comfortable conducting business online, this trend is likely to continue.

The following tips can help you to feel comfortable shopping online:

  • The same advice for avoiding low-tech identity theft applies to shopping on the Internet - know who you are dealing with and don't supply information that can be misused, such as your Social Security number.
  • Never send your credit card information for payment by email - since there is no security protection.
  • Read the website's privacy and security policies page - it will let you know what encryption methods are in place and whether they share your information with any third parties or affiliates.
  • Only buy from secure websites. You can tell if the URL of the order page is secure because it has "https" in the address, rather than "http." It's actually more secure to use your credit card online than giving out your credit card number over the phone for a catalog purchase.
  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card, since debit cards are not protected by federal law to the same extent as credit cards.
  • When paying for online auctions, consider using an "e-payment" service such as PayPal. They allow you to pay any seller with your credit card without providing your credit card information to an unknown party.

Other Online Usage

Whether you're browsing for information, registering for a chat site or subscribing to a magazine, you may often find yourself needing to enter personal information. How can you be sure that someone won't misuse that info?

Some of the steps you can take are the same as those for shopping online - check the website's privacy policy and security, and provide only essential information. Here are some other tips that can keep your identity safe:

  • Keep your passwords private - don't ever give any passwords to a stranger, no matter what the circumstances. And change your passwords often to protect yourself from hackers.
  • Don't fall for emails or pop-up ads which announce, "You have won" a free prize or sweepstakes. At best, they will be sales come-ons, at worst an attempt to snag your credit card or other identifying information.
  • Be cautious about online offers for credit cards; many of these are fraudulent while others are hyping cards with expensive fees and interest rates.
  • You may find your email inbox flooded with emails promising everything from credit repair and free scholarships to lucrative work-from-home businesses. Just delete these, since most are outright scams.

Using these tips will definitely help to keep your identity safe while using the power of the World Wide Web.

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