Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
The phrase "Cyber Monday" was coined several years ago  to describe the phenomenon of millions of workers returning to their offices on the Monday after Thanksgiving and spending a good part of the day doing their holiday shopping online. By November 2010, Cyber Monday had become the biggest online shopping day in history and the first to surpass the billion-dollar threshold .
By all indications, Cyber Monday 2011 will be a blockbuster day for online retailers. Shopping online can be a convenient, time-saving, and economical alternative to shopping in a traditional "bricks and mortar" retail store. However, it's important for consumers to take basic steps to protect their privacy. If you plan to shop online on Cyber Monday (or on any other day of the year), following these 10 tips will help to protect you from fraud, identity theft and other privacy intrusions.
- Never use
a debit card (check card) online. If your card information is compromised,
funds can be withdrawn from your bank account without your knowledge. Under
federal law, your bank can take up to two weeks to investigate fraudulent
activity before returning the funds to your account. That can make it impossible to conduct your
normal day-to-day financial activities.
In fact, if you don't report the missing funds promptly, you could
potentially lose all the money on deposit in your bank. To learn more, read PRC's Fact Sheet 32: Paper or
Plastic: What Have You Got to Lose ?
using a virtual or single-use credit card. Some card issuers offer virtual
credit cards or single-use card numbers that can be used online. Virtual credit
cards use a randomly generated substitute account number in place of your
actual credit card number. Learn more in PRC's Fact Sheet 23: Online Shopping
Tips: E-Commerce and You .
- Only shop
at secure sites. If you look at the top of your screen where the website's
address is displayed, you should see "https://". The "s" that is
displayed after "http" indicates that the site encrypts information
being transferred from your computer to the merchant. You may not see the
"s" until you actually move to the order page on the site. To learn more, read PRC's Fact Sheet 23: Online Shopping
Tips: E-Commerce and You .
- Read the
information be shared with other businesses or affiliated companies? Will your address be used to send you junk
mail? Will your email address be used to
send you spam? Look for online merchants
who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines
for privacy-related practices, such as TRUSTe ,
Verisign  (Symantec), or BBB Accredited Business Seal  . Learn more in PRC's Fact Sheet 23: Online Shopping
Tips: E-Commerce and You . Along the same lines, consider return policies,
shipping and handling costs, complaint procedures, warranties, and restocking
fees. Check the merchant’s track record with the Better Business Bureau . Use a search engine to look for complaints
about the merchant by searching for "complaints" along with the retailer's
give out information that is not necessary to process your order. Of course, you will need to provide shipping
and payment information. But some retailers
may try to obtain additional information that can be used by the merchant and
other businesses to target you for marketing purposes. This information might also be used by the
merchant to engage in price discrimination in the future by charging you a
higher price than it charges other consumers.
This is known as dynamic pricing.
By all means, NEVER give out your Social Security number.
"recycle" a password. Some online shopping sites will ask you to establish
a user name and password. Password-protected sites are becoming more
vulnerable because often people use the same user names and passwords on
numerous sites. Do you really want an
online retailer to know the password to your online banking? You may be doing so by "recycling" your
passwords. If your password for one site
is breached, your other online accounts could be put at risk if you use the
same passwords. If you do decide to
create a user name and password, make sure it is adequately strong. Learn more in PRC's Alert: 10 Rules for
Creating a Hacker-Resistant Password .
- Sign up
for credit card alerts. Don’t
wait until you get the monthly statement in the mail. Many financial institutions offer
real-time communications about changes to your credit card account. For example, you
can sign up to receive email notification that a bill is due or a transaction
has posted. Be on the lookout for charges you didn't make. If you do sign up
for email notification, make sure you know the difference between a legitimate
alert from your bank and a phishing email from a criminal. Learn more about
phishing in PRC's Fact Sheet 18: Online Privacy:
Using the Internet Safely .
save, or take a screen capture of your order confirmation. Be sure that it includes the cost of the
order (including any discounts or promotions applied), shipping and handling
charges (if applicable), your customer information, complete product
information, and your confirmation number.
Often you will also receive a confirmation message that is emailed to
you by the merchant. Be sure to save the message as well as any other email
correspondence with the company.
cautious when entering payment information at a Wi-Fi hotspot. While it can be convenient to shop from your
laptop or tablet at a coffee house or airport, most Wi-Fi hotspots are
unsecured and unencrypted. Hackers can
intercept network traffic to steal your credit card number and other sensitive
information. Ensure that your device is
not set to automatically connect to the nearest available Wi-Fi access point. Install
a firewall on your device and keep it enabled at all times. Consider using a Virtual
Private Network (VPN). A
VPN provides encryption over an unencrypted Wi-Fi connection and renders
intercepted traffic useless to the hacker.
Learn more by reading PRC's Fact Sheet 2: Wireless Communications:
Voice and Data Privacy .
- Know your Employer's policy regarding the personal use of company computers. Much Cyber Monday shopping takes place at workplace computers. Employers are generally free to monitor employees' use of computers and other workplace equipment. Employers might use software that enables them to see what is on an employee's screen, keystrokes entered on their keyboard, and Internet usage. To learn more, read PRC's Fact Sheet 7: Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring .
Shopping online on Cyber Monday can be a great way to begin your holiday shopping season. By taking these precautions, you can help avoid problems that might get your holidays off to a bad start.