Tips for online safety and privacy

Tighter security procedures and increased consumer awareness have made the Internet a safer place to transact business than ever before. In fact, the common misconception that most identity fraud occurs through the Internet was recently called into question by the 2007 Identity Fraud Survey Report conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research.

According to the survey, identity thieves have greater success stealing private data through physical, real-world channels like “dumpster-diving” (fishing documents like bank statements and pay stubs out of the trash) than they do via online transactions. Plus, the number of identity fraud cases in the U.S. is dropping. Identity fraud and theft cases fell by 12 percent between 2005 and 2006.

However, it’s still important to know how identity thieves operate and how to safeguard your personal information when online.

Encryption technology
Before submitting bank account or credit card information online, make sure the information you’re sending will be transmitted via a secure Web page. The page should be protected by encryption technology that scrambles the data during transit so no one other than the host site can decipher it.

Secure URL
Even though a site may look professional and legit, that’s not a guarantee that it’s secure. You can usually tell if the page you’re viewing is encrypted from the URL: Unencrypted pages typically begin with http://; encrypted ones begin with https://. If you are entering sensitive financial information such as a credit card number, be sure to look for the https:// in the url.

Lock icon
A lock icon should also appear on secure pages in the status bar of your browser window. Click on it and the security certificate of the page you’re viewing should come up. The lock icon is a helpful tool, but you should always test its functionality; some sites create a fake status bar and lock icon to give users the impression that the page is secured when, in fact, it isn’t. If the site has a privacy policy, read it carefully to see what personal information you will be asked for and how it will be used.

Password protected
You can be confident you have an added layer of protection, if a Web site requires you to input a personal password in order to access your account. This prevents anyone who does not know your password from being able to go online to view your personal information.

Personal firewall
Online security isn’t restricted to the Web sites themselves. You can buy protective “firewall” software for your computer to prevent any sites you connect to from accessing your hard drive and to keep your private information safe from hackers. Also, you should store any login or password information for secure sites in a safe place and make sure you don’t share them with anyone.

For companies that do business online, keeping their customers personal information private and secure is vital. For example, here are some of the ways that LendingTree ensures your data is kept private:

• LendingTree protects your financial information by using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Technology that encrypts data in a format only LendingTree can decode.

• All pages on LendingTree that prompt you to enter personal financial information are protected from hackers by the https secure server communication layer.

• Pages that retrieve information about your loan status are password-protected, and any personal or sensitive information you submit is viewed only by authorized personnel. To retrieve information about your loan status, you are required to enter both your email address and password.

• LendingTree stores your information on a computer that is separated from the Internet, so any information you submit will remain safe from hackers.

By checking that all the companies you transact with online protect your personal data in a similar fashion, you can ensure your Web transactions remain private and safe.

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To learn more about online safety and identity theft, visit the FTC’s Identity Theft Site.

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, you may use the form here to send a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

 

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