The Internet has become a global marketplace for goods and services. For this online marketplace to prosper, shoppers must feel safe when transmitting credit card and other financial information. Because data traveling over the network passes through many computers along the way, the opportunity exists for someone to intercept confidential information.
How might this affect you? Let's say you want to buy merchandise from an online store. If you provide your credit card number, how do you know it will travel safely from your computer to its final destination? With the tremendous potential for doing business online, there's a lot of time and money being spent trying to make data protection secure.
How It Works
Data is secured with a technology called encryption. Encryption software scrambles the data with a secret code so that no one can make sense of it while it's being transmitted. When the data reaches its destination, the same software unscrambles the information. When you see a small lock icon at the bottom of your web browser or next to the address bar, it indicates that your data is encrypted during transmission.
The real targets of most hackers are corporate and government computers systems. They protect their systems by erecting a firewall, an extra layer of software security placed between their internal computers and the Internet. These days, almost all personal computers also have firewalls. For instance, Windows XP and Vista operating systems have them built in. If your computer doesn't have a firewall, we recommend installing one immediately. You can download ZoneAlarm for free.
When dealing with online merchants, the best security is common sense. Anyone can establish a professional looking online store these days, so make sure you deal with reputable companies. How can you tell? The answers to these questions provide clues:
- Is this the website of an established retailer?
- Does the site have a street address, not just a post office (PO) box?
- Is there a way to call customer service?
- Is a return and refund policy posted?
All online financial transactions should be secure. Many online stores have what's known as a secure check-out page. You may see a notice to that effect posted on the site. Alternately, you may see a lock icon on your web browser, indicating that the site uses security technology. Also, check the address of the web page in the address bar of your browser; it should begin with https. The letter "s" indicates that the page is secure.
If you are uncomfortable transmitting sensitive information, many sites provide a phone number you can call to give your credit card number, although there is no guarantee that's secure either. According to the National Consumers League, most Internet fraud involves sending checks or money orders to merchants. The organization recommends paying by credit card, because fraudulent charges can be disputed with your bank.
The risks involved in transacting business on the Internet are no greater than those in any other arena in which we do business. While it is relatively safe to conduct business on the Internet right now, there are many companies working to develop and improve the technology required to make the Web even more secure.
Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau, or BBB, is an unbiased non-profit organization that helps consumers and businesses by setting and upholding high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior.
Look for companies displaying this badge as it means they meet BBB accreditation standards and are safe to conduct business with. If you have questions about any company or non-profit group, it is always a good idea to search for them on the BBB site to see if they’re accredited. You can search for companies by visiting www.bbb.org/us/bbb-accredited-businesses/.
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by a company BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. You can file a complaint by visiting odr.bbb.org/odrweb/public/getstarted.aspx.