<< Back to Consumer Tips & Articles Archive

Playing it Safe Online

The on-line information superhighway offers convenient access to a vast array of products and services. A still- evolving market, the Internet and World Wide Web (the multimedia portion of the Internet where vendors offer many goods and services) is largely unregulated and attracts its share of thieves, misinformation, and bad advice.

When using your credit card to pay a vendor on the web, your account number and expiration date pass through several computer connections, leaving a digital shadow that cyberthieves could possibly intercept.

Encryption is a technology that can foil potential cyberthieves. When buying goods from merchants with encryption systems, you download software that scrambles your credit card information before you make the purchase. At this time, not all merchants offer such a system.

Because encryption isn't always an option, follow these steps to protect your credit card data during any on-line transmissions:

  • Never reveal your credit card number on a computer bulletin board, news group, or other public forum.
  • Give your credit card numbers only to merchants you're familiar with, or to those with sterling reputations.
  • Check your monthly credit card statements for unauthorized expenses, and report them immediately to your card issuer.
  • The Internet has been a boon to investors, but they're also vulnerable to fraud. Because the Internet offers anonymity, it's a magnet for con artists. Securities regulators monitor on-line traffic, but they can't possibly check the veracity of every stock tip or financial report.
  • If you're tempted to act on an online investment tip or respond to an offer, take the following precautions:
  • Do your own research and find independent verification of crucial data.
  • Before buying an investment offered online, examine the prospectus and offering document. Ensure that the stock or mutual fund is registered with the Securities Exchange Commission and the state securities administrator in the state where the offer originated. If you aren't sure, call the North American Securities Administrators Association at (202)737-0900.
  • Be skeptical of phrases such as "zero-risk investment," "make money fast," and "act now before it's too late."
  • If an offers sound too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If in doubt about a company's reputation, contact your state attorney general or the National Fraud Information Center at (800)876-7060.