Consumers are urged to guard their personal data from identity thieves.
Annapolis, Md (KM). The number of consumers using the internet to do their Holiday shopping is expected to reach new heights this year. But there are dangers to consumers who shop on line. “They can have their identity stolen and their financial information depleted if criminals, who are always listening in, can get the transaction information,” says Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
His office has issued a number of safety tips to help protect your identity and your finances when shopping on line. “I really encourage all Marylanders to make sure that when they’re using credit card information that they’re dealing with entities that they know, not some new organization that they’re somehow in touch with all of sudden,” says Franchot. “If you’re using it at bricks and mortar store, make sure that you’re familiar with that store and you’re comfortable with them.” Also, the Comptroller’s Office says, if you’re shopping on line, look for an “s” in the “https” at the start of the retailers URL. Those sites tend to be most secure.
Another tip is to learn to recognize “phishing” e-mails, which can look like they’re from a legitimate business or government agency, but are designed to lure consumers to fake websites, where thieves can steal user names and passwords. “Anything that asks for financial information or payment of a debt is probably fraudulent if it’s just coming over the internet, and you’re not aware of it. It just appears there,” says Franchot.
The Comptroller’s Office says install security software to protect your phone, computer and tablet from malware and viruses.
Also, use passwords that are long and unique and sign up for account alerts. Some financial institutions will send out text alerts to customers if there’s a withdrawal or change to their accounts. And encrypt sensitive data and protect it with a password.
Finally, the Comptroller’s Office says don’t use unprotected public Wi-Fi when conducting financial transactions; that should be done at a secure place such as your home.
Even if you are scammed while shopping on line, Franchot says report that to the Comptroller’s Office by calling 1-800-MD-TAXES. “There are about 10,000 victims right now in Maryland so don’t feel like you’re the only one and it’s something to be embarrassed about. It isn’t. It happens to lots of people. But you need to take action,” he says.
By Kevin McManus