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I hope everybody has a happy and healthy Thanksgiving tomorrow. Usually the Friday after Thanksgiving has become the busiest shopping day of the year throughout the country. During this upcoming holiday shopping season, increasingly more and more consumers are shopping on the internet. This year, we have already seen a startling increase in identity thefts and compromised sensitive data and I can only imagine that these trends will continue into the holiday season. Apparently the Federal Trade Commission also believes this disturbing trend will continue and has issued some guidelines to assist in minimizing identity theft risks for consumer shoppers who supply confidential information to stores via the internet.

According to the FTC, following these simple on-line shopping guidelines this season may reduce risks of fraud and identity theft:

Know who you’re dealing with.

Read between the lines.

Calculate the costs.

Pay by credit or charge card.

Check out the terms of the deal, like refund policies and delivery dates.

Keep a paper trail.

Don’t email your financial information.

Use anti-virus software and a firewall and update them regularly.

Check a company’s privacy policy before doing business.

These suggested guidelines are explained in more detail at the FTC web site I refer to above. The FTC also maintains another web site with information, identity theft prevention ideas, safe on-line shopping recommendations and other useful fraud prevention resources. Also, I suggest that when you decide to buy something on the internet and get ready to provide sensitive information such as your credit card number and address, make sure that you only buy from companies which take personal information via encrypted web pages. Encryption methods scramble sensitive words, numbers and other personal information as it passes through the internet en route to its final destination. Often secure web pages contain a digital certificate confirming the authenticity of the entity seeking to encrypt data. Assuming you use Internet Explorer, you can confirm data encryption security and the authenticity of the digital encryption certificate by right clicking your mouse on any secure web page, scrolling down to the property tab and clicking on the security button. These details should verify that the security certificate and the web site match.

So to all of you on-line shoppers during this holiday season, be safe, be wary and be happy. Be safe by following the simple FTC guidelines. Be wary by not trusting everything you see on-line. My simple rule of thumb is that if something looks too good to be true, it is. Sometimes I may miss out on a great deal but I still follow this general rule. Also, be safe by understanding how trusted companies store your credit card number, address and other personal information. Be wary of companies with no well-defined privacy policies. These companies are likely easy targets for identity theft. If you do business with a company that does not have a carefully crafted privacy policy, both you and the company may be the next target for hackers and identity thieves.

Lastly, after following the guidelines suggested by the FTC, be happy when you find a good bargain on a trusted web site and you completed your internet transaction safely and securely. Once again, Happy Thanksgiving and here’s wishing you and your family a pleasant and safe on-line shopping experience.

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