How many people would give up their SSN for a good deal?

Online shopping growth continues to defy gravity, with an estimated $1.7 billion spent on Cyber Monday last week — an 18% jump from 2012. And why not? Digital shoppers beat the crowds, never fight for parking, usually get the best prices, and often escape sales tax.

But if you’re going to be online shopping this holiday, that means you’re going to be slinging your data all around the Internet. You should understand the risks. It feels like every day, another major data breach is announced, with word of 2 million Facebook passwords being stolen just the latest bad news.

While making a calculated risk to shop online is fine, many consumers still don’t take simple common-sense precautions when using the Web, a new survey has found.

More than half said they would provide personal information that is not typically needed to complete a transaction, like a Social Security number, mother’s maiden name or birth date, according to a survey released today by Identity Theft 911.

The research — a telephone poll of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by market research firm gFk — also found that shoppers aren’t trusting their gut when making choices about sharing data.

Slightly more than half told researchers that they’d purchased something online from a site that they felt “was not secure.” And though 82% of online shoppers said they were very concerned about identity theft, 60% said they didn’t scan their credit card bills more carefully during the holiday season.

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I’m not bashing online shopping; far from it. The benefits of online shopping, on the whole, outweigh the risks. In fact, using your credit card at a retail store or giving it to someone on the phone is at least as risky as using it online, if not more.  Most retail stores will take your data and put it on a server that’s connected to the Internet anyway, and mightbroadcast it over wireless networks, too.

Fraud risks shouldn’t scare you away from online shopping. But just as you shouldn’t leave your purse or iPhone on the front seat of your car when you park at the mall, there’s several thing you can do to lower the odds that a Grinch might steal your holiday spirit and your identity.

  1. Check those credit card bills carefully. Yours may be an extra page or two come January due to your holiday splurges, and criminals hope you might miss the fraud in the crowd.
  2. With packages flying all around the planet, you are bound to have emails from delivery services with exciting news — “Your package has been delivered!” Boy, they are fun to click. That makes this time of year a playground for phishers, who can easily spoof those emails and trick you into clicking on a link to a booby-trapped website. Here’s the rule: “Pause before you click,” especially on a link in an e-mail — even if you are expecting a package.
  3. The same rule holds true for e-greeting cards. Sorry to be so Scrooge-like, but I’ve just given up on them, there’s so many booby trapped cards floating around. Send me a real holiday card, please!
  4. In a moment of good cheer, you might decide to be generous and make a donation at a charity’s website. Good for you. But stick to sites with names you know, and always type the charity’s website name into the address field of your browser manually. (Don’t follow a link in an email or a website). That’s the best way to ensure you end up in the right place.
  5. Most important: If you get that familiar “queasy, something’s-not-right” feeling when you are about to enter your credit card, LISTEN TO IT! You are probably right, and something is probably wrong. Pick up the phone and call the retailer to confirm it’s legit. Searching for the company’s name and “scam” or “complaint” is also a pretty good way to see if a website has a bad reputation.

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About Bob Sullivan 1582 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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