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Protecting Yourself Online

Protecting Yourself Online

Online shopping with a credit card can often be much easier and faster than driving to the store and paying cash. But it can be much more risky, too. Here's how to protect yourself.
Buzzle Staff
By Deborah Lambeth

After the Christmas rush was over and you were faced with having to pony up the money to pay those bills that you accumulated during the online shopping craze, you may have felt like just gritting your teeth and dashing off a check to the credit card company. But suddenly you see a charge appear from a store you know you didn't use to buy a gift. What do you do?

First, contact the company and let them know you have a charge on your account that you need to dispute. Find out what the article was that was ordered and see if you remember ordering it. Interestingly enough, sometimes the company name on the charge slip is listed differently than what the company's name is online, so it may actually be something you did buy. But if this is not something you ordered, ask to speak with a customer service supervisor, and tell them about the charge and violation of security. Call the Secret Service (yes, the Secret Service) and let them know that someone has accessed your account online from a secure site.

Sometimes companies will offer to set you up with a credit-monitoring agency for a year. These agencies will notify you when someone attempts to use your information or accesses your account(s). Several years ago my mortgage company sent a letter out to several of their clients telling us that we had been automatically signed up for a credit-monitoring agency. Evidently, one of the brokers had a laptop stolen that might have had some identifying information on it. So, to be safe and protect their customers, they immediately initiated a security protocol that involved signing people up for credit monitoring. If a company does not offer to do this, you can sign up through any of the main credit-reporting agencies listed below.

Equifax Credit Information Services―Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 105496
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496
Tel: (800) 997-2493

P.O. Box 2104
Allen, Texas 75013-2104
Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
Tel: (800) 680-7289

You can also get a copy of your credit report FREE at If you have had information stolen, it is recommended that you check your credit report every few months to see if other charges crop up that you have not authorized.

E-commerce and buying online is becoming big business―for lots of reasons. People don't want to go through the hassle of driving to the store, trying to find a parking place, and then trying to find a gift. It's much easier to stay at home, click a few buttons and have someone deliver it to you. There are ways to keep your information secure and safe. Just remember the STIRS acronym―and if you find an error, you should STIR things up to get it corrected as quickly as you can.

Site―is the site you are on a reputable site?

Trustworthy―Does the site have a Verisign logo or some other type of security validation listed so as to protect your financial and personal information when you submit it?

Information―Does the company have a privacy policy? Read it and see what steps they take to ensure your privacy.

Reliable―One of the best ways to see if a site is reliable is to look at comments from other people who have bought items from the site and read their experiences.

Scrutinize―Read the site carefully and be sure there is plenty of valid contact information available before you place an order. You can e-mail a company and ask them for verification of privacy policies, shipping charges, and return guarantees. You can call and place your order instead of putting your information in an online order form. When you get your bill from the company, look over it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure your order matches.

While online shopping does have its pros and cons, it's important to make sure that no one has gifted themselves at your expense.