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Online Shopping Safety

Recently, someone I know very well was the victim of identity theft to the tune of $10k. Thankfully, they had a credit card company that was cooperative, but it was only by accident and God's grace that they discovered the problem before it became even worse. Best guess as to how this happened is that someone was able to get key credit card information on them over the 'net. When questioning them to try to help determine what may have gone wrong, I was surprised at what they didn't know about shopping online.
As I am in the e-commerce business, I have some tips for you:
  • Never give sensitive information by email. These are not secure, and are one of the easiest items for a thief to intercept or hack.
  • Never give sensitive information to a web site or shopping cart unless you see 'https' at the beginning of the web address at the top of your browser. Ordinarily, you'll see just a 'http' listed, but if that page is using secure, encrypted communication, you'll see the addition of the 's' so that 'https' now shows.
  • Don't use security questions for which the answers are probably easily discovered online. You'd be surprised at what can be found online, such as birth and school records. Questions such as 'What is your Mother's maiden name?' are actually not very secure. Stick with questions and answers that are not likely to be found in public or semi-public records online.
  • Be sure you are comfortable with the website/business you are dealing with. Does the site look professional? Do you see indications of links to verifications, such as 'Hacker Safe', 'Verified Merchant', or 'BBB Online'? Remember that these logos are easily stolen and pasted onto a site, so do they actually link to a verification page? Does the site have solid contact information, such as phone numbers, listed email addresses, and physical addresses? You'd be surprised how many very smart shoppers call us just to verify our contact and company info. For smaller companies, is there a 'Who are we?' type of page that gives you information on who they are and/or their history?
  • What level of secure information is required for a credit card transaction? The merchant actually has control of this, regardless of what you may have heard. For our sites, we choose a fairly high level for our transactions, requiring a match on the billing address and the security code found printed on the card. If a site has a very low requirement for its transactions, it is possible they do not meet minimum standards for protecting your information.
  • Does the business have a posted return policy or guarantee? If not, you may be dealing with someone who is going to leave you hanging.
  • Does the business have their shipping policy and rates posted? I find even many large, reputable companies fail on this count, so good luck.
  • Does the site have a posted 'Privacy Policy', including what information is stored, and who it is given to? Because of our service provider, Zoovy, we have a pretty long and convoluted policy, but the bottom line is we store only what is necessary to process your order and what you authorize. The only information we give to third parties is what is required to process your order and track your shopping experience with us, and none of it is used to harass you with 'spam' emails or other unwanted intrusions.
  • Avoid doing shopping from public use computers, such as at libraries, your place of employment, or any other computer for which others have access.

In other words, before you give out your information, be sure you are comfortable with the company with whom you are considering doing business. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. If you can't figure out who you are actually doing business with, you may want to think twice.
In many ways, doing business online can actually be more secure than shopping at a traditional 'walk-up' store. Even with the best of security, walk-ups can have unscrupulous clerks and IT folks who can find rather ingenious ways to get your info. Remember, also, that the communications used to process your order online are actually much the same as those used at a 'walk-up' store. The point is that online shopping is every bit as secure as traditional store shopping if you are wise about who you do business with and how you do it.
Have a great and safe shopping experience!
Phil Winteregg
General Manager
Gourmet Seed International, LLC
dba Italian Seed and Tool
We accept all major forms of payment