Featured Article – e-Commerce: When Online Shopping is a Real Steal
A few decades ago, the thought of purchasing items on a website from a cell phone sounded futuristic. The world has certainly changed. Did you know that, this past Cyber Monday, consumers spent a record $2 billion from their mobile devices? (Thomas, 2017)? What is more, a whopping $6.59 billion was spent online on this same day making U.S. history as the largest online shopping day ever (Thomas, 2017). Despite the massive success of online shopping, foot traffic in stores decreased less than one percent (Wattles, 2017). Yes, Black Friday is still the bustling, energy-filled occasion that everyone either loves or hates. Perhaps you were among the millions of people running into stores to catch a good deal. You may have purchased from the comfort of your own home, and as packages from online orders arrive on your doorstep (or the front porch of loved ones near and far), the excitement of the season mounts. But, unfortunately, holiday spirits are not the only part of this peak shopping season that is on the rise.
Identity theft and data breach is an ever-present risk, yet this season marks a time when consumers are spending billions of dollars through digital transactions with retail merchants for in-store purchases as well as online. Criminals take advantage of the rush. You may recall the data breach of a major retail store in 2013. Around 70 million people were affected; their credit card numbers and full names were stolen along with other sensitive information. The breach caused havoc, panic, and a lengthy lawsuit (McGrath, 2014).
Now consider this: in 2017, there were 1,202 total data breaches in contrast with 614 in 2013. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the number of U.S. data breaches increased 29 percent in the first part of 2017 alone (Identity Theft Resource Center 2017). Already, roughly 1.9 billion total records have been exposed in the first half of 2017 (Breach Level Index, 2017).
So what’s the point of a data breach?
Well, like many criminals, their first goal is to turn your personal information into their financial gain. Many of them intend to sell the information, such as names and social security numbers, to other criminals who seek to file fraudulent tax returns and seize your federal and state refund. They may also use your information to take out loans in your name. This makes the problem even harder to solve because the stolen information makes its way into the Dark Web and becomes more difficult to track. By law, a company is required to contact you if your data has been stolen. That’s why companies that have been hacked have offered consumers identity theft protection and recovery services to compensate for the breach (Wilson, 2017).
Criminals also seek to steal credit card numbers to commit financial fraud in other ways. Those that steal the digits of your credit or debit card might make unauthorized purchases. How does this happen? Unsecured merchant sites, fake or spoofed websites and skimmers are just a few examples. If your credit card number is ever stolen, call the credit card company that issued you the card. They will cancel your card and issue you a new one. If your password or PIN number is stolen, make a new password and make it as strong as possible (TIME,2017). Find out more about this issue from the Federal Trade Commission.
Some thieves have caught on to the heightened issue of security breach and identity theft, and they use public concern to their nefarious advantage. You may receive a legitimate-looking e-mail from a big-name store, credit card company or banking institution that “informs” you that your data has been compromised followed by a link to enter your information when, in reality, the e-mail is a phishing scam that includes a spoofed website (TIME, 2017).
Speaking of scams, there are many other ways you can get duped while shopping online. For example, you may have seen sponsored ads for cute clothes or toys at astronomically low prices while scrolling through social media. If so, be aware that the low price for the item might be accompanied by an astronomical shipping cost. Find out more about smart online shipping here.
The thought of losing a few bucks on a T-shirt that is never delivered to you is a bad break, but being robbed of your identity due to an avoidable online shopping scam is even more serious. If you shop on a fake website, or an unsecured site or network, scammers may steal your credit or debit card number, banking information and address which puts you at risk of financial issues over an extended period of time. Identity theft and financial fraud can severely damage your credit history. For teens, this problem may go unnoticed for years, yet it can lead to trouble getting loans in the future, whether it be for college or for a car–or even getting a job. How does identity theft affect teens? Find out more here.
This holiday season, make sure you’re making wise online decisions so that your joyride of purchasing presents and winter novelties puts smiles on faces rather than a pothole in your pathway.
See also → 5 Tips for Smart, Secure Online Shopping
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