Published on 01/12/11

Shop online without losing your identity

By Sharon Dowdy

Holiday shopping is over. But whether buying pet medications from Canada or discount tickets to a local concert, consumers are doing more and more of their day-to-day shopping online. To ensure the safety of year-round Internet purchases, a University of Georgia expert offers a few tips.

“Shopping from home saves time and can save money,” said Bill Blum, an information specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “But you don’t want the convenience of shopping in your pjs to lead to someone stealing your identity and your money.”

It’s Blum’s job to teach CAES employees how to shop wisely using university funds. To reduce risk when making online purchases, whether you are using personal or business funds, Blum offers these tips:

1) Don’t click on website links provided in emails. Take the time to type the website address into your web browser. “This takes a little longer, but it reduces your chances of encountering malicious links,” he said.

2) Use unique and strong passwords for each website that requires one. “A good rule of thumb is to create a 'root' password, something that is complex and unique and combines letters and numbers,” Blum said. “Then add characters that are unique to the website you are shopping on, like ‘Am’ for Amazon.”

3) Make sure the website you are shopping on is a secure website. “Secure website addresses begin with https://,” he said. “If the website begins with http:// it is not a secure one, and you should not enter your credit card information.”

A secure site will usually have a graphic of a lock somewhere on the web address bar, Blum said. “If you use Internet Explorer, the lock will usually be in the lower right corner. In Firefox, it's usually in the middle of the bottom border.”

4) If you use PayPal, log in frequently and check the history of transactions to ensure your account has not been compromised.

“Be very wary of emails that appear to come from PayPal and inform you of a problem with your account,” Blum said. “NEVER click on a link within an email that supposedly came from PayPal. It could direct you to a look-alike site that captures your PayPal user id and password.”

5) Be suspicious of emails that confirm shipping or direct you to a shopping site. Remember, web links should be copied and pasted, if used at all, from e-mail messages. “It's always better to access a vendor through the front door by typing in to their root website address,” he said.

Also, delete email messages that claim to provide tracking information, but don't include a tracking number. “It may take a little longer, but it’s always better to track a package through the vendor's website,” Blum said.

For more tips on shopping safely online, see the National Retail Federation at

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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