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How To: Shop Safely Online

By (view all posts by MoneywiseMoms)
at 10:41AM Wednesday February 8, 2012
under Shop Smarter

A few weeks ago, Zappos customers were alerted that their personal information--names, phone numbers, email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, the last four digits from credit cards and more—was likely accessed by hackers from their database. The company's suggestion was for customers to immediately login to their account and change their password. But is that enough? How do you protect yourself and your credit while shopping online?

Check your bank account and credit card activity. Take a few minutes each day or during the week to go online and check your accounts. It's better to catch fraud early than wait until you're contacted by the bank/credit card company. Just last August, Bank of America and Citi customers were issued new debit cards by their banks because their accounts were associated with "a security concern reported at a merchant or merchants where the customer used the card."

Reset your passwords frequently. This is an easy one! Instead of using the same username and password at multiple websites or merchants, use some variety. If your information is compromised at one site, it will be harder for hackers to use that information against you elsewhere. For help setting strong passwords that you'll actually remember, see Consumer Reports.

Be skeptical of emails with your personal information. After crimes like the Zappos hacking, you can now be contacted with what looks like accurate information—your name and last four digits of your credit card, for example—but be alert. Any notice from your bank or credit card company will also be found online after you login to your account. Use the security of the company's customer service department instead of communicating through your email server.

Review your FREE credit report. There is only one website where credit reports are truly free: annualcreditreport.com. You can get one report each year from each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—so I mark my calendar for every four month with the name of the company so I know which one to pull. I look for any discrepancies and make sure the data matches up with what I know to be true. If you find anything that suggests identity theft, like a credit card that you know you didn't open, head to the FTC's Identity Theft website for help.