Friday, April 11, 2008

Buying online – Don’t be afraid. But be careful.

With gas prices soaring and airplanes staying on the ground, there is a lot more justification for shopping and buying on line.

Many people are seeing the wisdom of this thinking. Others continue to harbor fears about the “security” of the web.

Trend Micro, providers of virus protection and other computer security products, just issued a list of personal information they feel you should be careful not to share on line.

They point out that the traditional concern about the security of credit card information is no longer the most important concern. There are a number of safeguards in place so that the worst that is likely to happen is an unauthorized shopping spree. Banks and credit card companies have established ways to deal with that problem if it happens, regrettable as it would be.

Potentially more damaging, by a large margin, is the threat of identity theft. (As a recent, previous victim of an attack on my identity, I know how frightening it can be. I wrote about this in an early blog message.)

Trend Micro says there are things to do and NOT to do online.

First among the things to protect is your Social Security number. No one needs this information except the government when you are applying for certain benefits or information. Even then, my advice is to not give it out unless YOU initiate the contact, and not by responding to link in an email message.

Trend Micro’s second recommendation is to read the privacy policy. If you don’t like the web site’s description of how it protects your personal and private information, leave it. My observation is that anyone asking for your information should have an ironclad rule about privacy protection and should state in straightforwardly. At our web sites, we do. We NEVER SHARE YOUR INFORMATION with any other parties, except the merchant service that processes the charges. We also don’t retain it on our computer files, where some skillful hacker might be able to get at it. If we keep it at all, we keep it as “hard copy”.

Third, Trend Micro suggests that organizations, such as newspaper or newsletter sites, will ask for birth dates and ZIP codes in order to gather demographic information. They suggest that, if you are inclined to provide this information, don’t feel you have to be 100% accurate. It makes no difference to the data collector if your birthday is in May or November, or if the last two digits of your ZIP code are spot on. But the correct information can help a data thief.

Trend Micro goes on to warn that you should not submit information in any form that does not have URL that reads “https” instead of “http”. That “s” means the page has been “secured” or encrypted so that the information can only be read by the recipient of the form. Three of our websites have Secure Certificates; the fourth has a link to the secure form on one of the other sites. TribalWorks , Native-JewelryLink , Native-PotteryLink , ZuniLink . Either way you are covered.

If you still are queasy about sending information over the internet, you can call most companies toll-free – our number is 1-800-305-0185. Or you can pay using Paypal, which only requires you to register your credit card with them one time. We accept Paypal.

We also accept personal checks by mail.

Many of our customers order from overseas and toll-free phone numbers can be problematic. In those cases, as a last resort, if the secure order form doesn't activate, we suggest that buyers split the elements of their credit card information over three or four separate email messages. With billions of email messages flying through cyberspace, there is little likely hood any third party can capture enough information to be of value to them.

Trend Micro continues by pointing out that vagueness in online profiles is not a sin. Especially if on social sites, your friends already know where you live. Anyone else who wants to have that information is most likely the kind of person you'd rather not have it. On job boards, leave your phone number off your resume and create a special email address specifically to receive inquiries.

Another source says that the information that you think is least important, could be most valuable to an identity thief – your email password. If some one can get into your email account, they can have a wealth of other information redirected to them by changing the password. When you set up your passwords, use a mix of upper case and lower case letters and numerals. Such a password is much more difficult to crack.

Be safe. Be assured. If you are cautious about who you share information with and how you share it, doing business online is no more dangerous that doing business off line.

This blog message is brought to you by Aboriginals: Art of the First Person and its web sites at
Native-JewelryLink, Native-PotteryLink, TribalWorks and ZuniLink in hopes that it will make your online activity safer and and more satisfying.

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