Tips to Stay Safe & Private Online, Particularly When Shopping!

Guard Your Online Privacy

Guard Your Online Privacy!

We’re working on some new posts and articles and found ourselves writing a lot of reminders about safer online browsing, and simple things you can do to protect your private information.

Along with good internet security software (and this is most likely not what you get for free with your home or mobile internet carrier), a great deal of how safe you are when online depends on common sense, and careful viewing habits.

Here’s our list of Some of Our Top Security/Privacy Tips, not necessarily in any order of importance.  All of these are important in different ways!

Always Stay Current with Security Updates

Security Updates are Critical

Security Updates are Critical

No matter how much of a rush you are in, always take the time to update your security settings.  Depending on your computer use, this could be once a day or once a week.

Regardless, ALWAYS make sure that you have update security settings before you start to do any type of online financial or personal transaction.

This includes shopping and online banking, but you should also do it before and after you download any new software or applications.

Here’s One Reason Why:  A couple of months ago, we started getting huge amounts of spam from one email address.  Even though several “masks” were used, the actual email was identifiable. Eventually we got a call from a young woman  college student who said that her smart phone had been hacked.

Someone had used her email addresses (and cell phone minutes) to generate thousands of spam messages. After accepting her apology, I asked if she used the phone for online payments.

She said she had planned to, but hadn’t yet done so.  Which is good: because in addition to the hackers’ seeing her photos, emails, contact lists, she also could have provided the hacker critical information and endangered her financial identity.

Watch Your Cookie Settings

If you use cookies, and most sites require cookies, the sites you have visited over past months or years as well as on any given day are factored into any search result.

In fact, searches can now only be done in cookie-enabled browsers.  So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that ads you see reflect your overall browsing trends.

We recommend that you clear out your cache, which includes deleting all cookies, every time you initiate and right after you complete an online purchase or online banking or payment transaction.  We also delete all cookies every time we close a browser.

Aside from adding junk files to your computer, which can slow it down, many cookies will continue to provide your browsing habits to the people who originally gave them to you.

Even though regularly cleaning out cookies vastly reduces the amount of information anyone can learn about you, computers around the world (and most certainly at Google) know a lot about your viewing patterns.

This includes what sites you visit, how often you visit, what news sites you like, and your general age, location and sex.  And if you’ve ever provided it to anyone, they may also know your average household income.

Which brings us to the next Recommended Security Habit:

Use Caution When Giving Personal or Financial Info

Basically, people can ask you whatever they want. Whether or not you decide to disclose the information is something to think about. Once it’s out there, it’s out. 

Think about who you are giving the information to.  Why do they want it? How will it be used?  Who could this information be shared with?  Do they even NEED this information?

Bottom Line:  Unless there is a REALLY legitimate and business reason that a company needs information (such as a store needing your credit card data, address, phone number and email) don’t give it out.

You should NEVER provide information that makes you feel the least bit uncomfortable.

Lots of sites, Facebook and online email services, require your age. This makes sense because there are age limits for services.

A Polite Way to Say MYOB

On the other hand, there are many things service providers would love to know, but you don’t need to tell them and they can’t make you.

These questions are often shaded or otherwise noted that as “not required,” but many people just fill the answers in without thinking about who needs to know things like:

  • Ethnicity or religion
  • Marital /Relationship status
  • Sexual Preference
  • Personal or household income
  • Number of children in the home
  • Household education levels

Other information that you should be very wary about sharing includes your social security number, or any banking information.

If they don’t need it, don’t give it to them.  There are very few things online that can only be purchased in one place.  You get requests for information you are uncomfortable with and its just time to move along.

Only Submit Financial or Private Info on Secure Site with HTTPS:// Prefix

This one is pretty easy to identify: servers with secure socket layer protection, encryption and other critical measures that protect your information as it flies through cyberspace should start with HTTPS:// and not HTTP:// as shown below.

Before Entering Personal or Financial Data, Make Sure URL says “HTTPS://”  and not just “HTTP://”

Note:  Merchants that process payment cards are severely limited to the information they share about customers.  Along with stringent security measures, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) require that merchants protect information such as customer names, payment preferences, addresses and email addresses, for example.

Don’t Expect Your Emails to Remain Private

No matter how secure your computer, email is inherently just not a safe way to transmit certain information. At the far extreme, this includes anything you wouldn’t want your boss, mother, son, or husband to read.

On the realistic side, things that should not be transmitted or stored in emails include:

  • Banking information
  • Credit Card information, including numbers, expiration dates or security codes
  • Passwords to your other email accounts
  • Passwords to any online accounts.

Another note: many faxes these days actually end up in an inbox, which may or may not be better than laying on an unattended desk for Who Knows How Long.

If you’re faxing information, know who is monitoring the machine at the other end and ask that they call to let you know they have safely retrieved and stored the information transmitted. If they won’t do this, send it by certified mail or FedEx.

Don’t Stay Logged in Or Store User Names/Passwords Online

Sure it’s easy to login and stay logged into to your favorite sites without having to remember the user name and password.

But, it’s not safe and it’s a habit you want to avoid.  Other people can piggy back to these accounts, and with the right experience, take advantage of any lapses in your security to access other accounts.

Know Who You’re Doing Business With

We’ve said this before:  be especially cautious when you provide information to any site that does not provide contact information clearly on their website. Along with a form, make sure that you see a telephone number and an email address.

Never worked with the company before?  No big deal, just email them or give them a call and see what type of response you get.  A company you want to do business with you wants to speak with its customers, before and after any sales.

If you’re calling a smaller store, you may not get in touch with a human right away, but odds you’ll hear from their soon enough and should be able to answer any questions you have about the products you’re buying and why they need any information that you might not usually provide.  If you don’t like what you hear, just move along.

Copyright 2012,,, AM McElroy

2 thoughts on “Tips to Stay Safe & Private Online, Particularly When Shopping!

  1. Pingback: Why We “Bother” Customers About Certain Transactions and Accounts |

  2. Pingback: 6 Tips for Smarter Online Shopping This Season |

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