Paying It Safe

Shopping online is convenient, timesaving, and one of the biggest luxuries of the computer age. And, for the most part, it is considered very safe. But there are a few precautions you can take when shopping on the Internet to ensure the transactions you make are secure.

Many Web sites use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology to encrypt the credit card information that you send over the Internet. These sites usually inform you they are using this technology. If the Web address on the page that asks for your credit card information begins with “https” instead of “http”; if so, this technology is in place.

A different security technology, which works on different principles, is Secure Electronic Transaction, or SET, technology. SET or SSL technology are designed to make your connection secure.

There are some other ways to tell whether a Web site uses security software. Depending on your computer, look for:
  • An icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the browser screen.
  • An icon of an unbroken key at the bottom of the screen.
  • An icon of a lock on the status bar.
Another option is to place your order online, but phone in you credit card information to the business you're dealing with. If you're more comfortable with this alternative, make a note of the phone number, company, the date and time of your call, and the name of the person who recorded your credit card number.

If you use a password to log on to your network or computer, use a different password for online shopping orders. You might want to create a special password for particularly sensitive sites, such as your home-banking site. Also, take care in choosing your password. Don't use your address, birth date, phone number, or recognizable words. Instead, choose a string of at least five letters, numbers, and punctuation marks.

Finally, a word about viruses: If you receive an unsolicited commercial message, you should not open any attached file whose name ends in ".exe." Opening such a file could activate a computer virus that might affect the operation of your computer and/or damage the information stored on your computer. You can also protect yourself against viruses by purchasing and installing a virus-protection program.