How to Tell if a Website is Secure

One of the best things you can do to protect your identity while shopping online is to make sure that you are using a secure website.

While there is no full-proof way to keep your identity safe, you can reduce the chances that your identity will be stolen when you take appropriate precautions. Shopping online is convenient and usually safe — as long as you make sure you are on a secure website.

Before you enter your credit card information and other personal information, make sure you are on a secure page with the help of these indications:

website is secure

Address Bar

One of the easiest ways to see if you are on a secure website is to look at the address bar. Does it read “http” or “https”? The secure version should have the “s” at the end of “http.”

When you first start shopping on a website, it might not be secure. That’s usually not a problem. It really matters when you are ready to check out. As you switch to the page that requires you to enter payment information, you should watch for the addition of the “s.” If it doesn’t show up, don’t enter your sensitive information; it might not be secure.

You should also check for the “s” when you prepare to enter login information. This will reduce the chances that your user ID and password will be compromised. Remember that you want to protect your user ID and password just as much as you want to keep your payment information as safe as possible.

Lock Icon

Another thing to watch for near the address bar is a lock icon. This is a simple icon that looks like a padlock. If the website is secure, the lock will be shut. However, if the page you’re on isn’t secure, the padlock will be open. Get used to checking for the icon in order to identify secure pages. Don’t enter any personal information that you want kept private until you see that locked icon.

You can also click on the icon to make sure that that it is legitimate. In some cases, fraudsters try to build websites that imitate some of the icons, using graphics that look like padlocks. You can click on the icon to see the security information about the site. If there isn’t security information, or if there isn’t the letter “s” in the “http” portion of the address, that could be an indication that you are on a fraudulent site.

Third-Party Verification

There are companies that verify the security and legitimacy of websites, granting a seal to the sites that comply. Two of the most common seals you are likely to see are eTrust and VeriSign.

Once again, just looking for an official looking graphic isn’t a sure way to make sure that you are on a truly secure website. However, if you combine your search for third-party verification with the address bar and lock icon, you are more likely to determine if the website is secure. These third-party verifications can offer you peace of mind, and indicate that the website keeps up-to-date with the latest online security practices.

These seals are difficult to duplicate, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible. Take precautions by checking other aspects of the website to ensure that you are on the right track for a secure browsing experience.

Leave the Site if You Aren’t Sure

If you think something looks “off,” or if you are uncomfortable with the information that is being asked of you, leave the site immediately.

Don’t enter information into a site that you aren’t sure of. You want to feel confident about the situation, and if you don’t, go with your gut and leave.

No matter how hard a retailer or website operator tries, though, there is a chance that you will be a victim of a data security breach, or that some issue will arise. Pay attention to these situations, and make sure to change your password regularly. Also, try to avoid using the same login information for multiple sites.

Another strategy is to use one card for all of your online shopping. That way, if one card is compromised, you aren’t trying to fix the problem on multiple cards.

With a little extra vigilance, it’s possible to reduce the chances that an insecure website will result in identity theft.

Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft with these 5 Tools

When it comes to your identity, it’s important to protect yourself. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to shield your identity against fraudsters. Here are 5 tools that can help you reduce the chances that identity theft will get the best of you:

identity theft

1. 1Password

First of all, one of the best things you can do is have a variety of strong passwords protecting your information. Many consumers don’t like to have a lot of different passwords, instead preferring to just remember one password instead of several.

Unfortunately, this can make it easy for fraudsters to access multiple accounts. If you want to limit the damage from identity theft, you need different username/password combinations for all of your accounts. That way, stealing information for one account won’t result in compromising all of your accounts.

You can use 1Password to create strong passwords and store them in a secure way. You only have to remember one password, and this app takes care of the rest. It’s a simple solution that protect all of your accounts with different passwords.

2. AnnualCreditReport.com

This is the web site set up to allow you access to one free credit report each year. AnnualCreditReport.com allows you to get a credit report from each bureau once a year for free. You can spread it out so that you get one report from each every four months. Checking your credit report regularly can help you catch fraud early, and stop it from going further.

Just paying attention to your credit report is one of the best remedies for identity theft. If three times a year isn’t enough, you can pay to access your credit report, or you can get access through free credit information sites like Quizzle.

3. Online Account Management

If your bank and credit card issuers off online account management, take advantage of it. Sign up, and then log in at least two or three times a month. This way, you can keep track of transactions and identify potential problems.

Rather than waiting for statement delivery, you can be right on top of any issues that crop up. Use online account management to monitor your transactions and then report fraudulent transactions.

You can also use personal finance apps that automatically track your accounts. Check in with what’s happening, and you can avoid problems down the road, taking care of issues quickly.

4. Credit Monitoring Services

You can also take advantage of credit monitoring services. There are a number of them out there, and they can help you stay on top of changes to your credit situation.

Each of the three major credit bureaus offers credit monitoring. Additionally, there are a number of credit monitoring and identity services from LifeLock and Identity Guard. Before you buy, though, it makes sense to shop around a bit. While there are indications that credit monitoring can help protect your identity, not all products are created equal.

Credit monitoring services can’t really do anything that you aren’t able to do, but it can give you peace of mind. You don’t have to be constantly watching if someone else is doing it for you. Before you sign up, though, make sure that you understand exactly what is offered, and that the alert situation matches your needs.

5. Credit Freeze

Another tool that can help you protect yourself is the credit freeze. You can actually request that a freeze be placed on your credit. This way, if someone tries to open credit in your name, they are blocked. In many cases, it requires some hoop-jumping to lift the freeze. You are pretty well protected, but it also means some inconvenience for you. Plus, a credit freeze might cost you some money.

If you want a less expensive and less limiting option, you can place a fraud alert on your account. However, in order to take advantage of this option you might have to first be an actual victim of identity theft. The fraud alert doesn’t mean that credit will be denied, but it can mean that issuers do a little extra legwork to verify your identity before moving forward.

A freeze or an alert can be helpful in discouraging fraudsters and protecting your identity.

Take the time to find ways to protect your identity. While nothing is full-proof, you can limit the damage with a little effort.

Data Breaches: Will You Stop Using Plastic?

Data breaches have been big news recently.  However, even with some heightened concern about security, it doesn’t appear that many consumers are doing much to change their habits, and they are unlikely to stop using plastic.

According to a poll reported by Daily Finance, it appears that only 37 percent of consumers are increasing their use of cash to protect themselves from the identity theft that can come as the result of a data breach.

credit card information

More people seem to be worried about purchases made online, or made with a cell phone — in spite of the fact that, initially, the Target data breach was only supposed to have affected in-store shoppers.

Why Consumers Still Use Plastic

The only way to completely protect yourself from these types of data breaches is to stop using your credit cards and debit cards. Many consumers, though, don’t want to deal with the inconvenience that often accompanies using cash.

It’s much easier to just carry a thin piece of plastic, rather than a wad of cash. I know that I wouldn’t want to carry around a thick stack of cash. Swiping the plastic is so much more convenient. It’s faster, it’s easier, and you don’t often have to worry about getting caught without enough.

On top of that, even with the data security breaches, plastic is actually more secure than cash. Think about it: If someone steals your credit card or debit card, you can usually get the money back. Fraudulent transactions come with protection. Even though you might not get quite the same protection with debit cards as you would with a credit card, the reality is that you are still protected. As long as you can prove fraud, that money will be returned to you eventually.

With cash, the money is gone. There is no way to track that. If someone steals your wallet and takes the cash, you’re never getting that back. You’re better off having someone make a fraudulent purchase of $100 with a credit card than you are with someone taking $100 from your purse. When you consider this, it doesn’t make sense to stop using plastic.

Using a credit card instead of a debit card offers another layer of protection, since the money isn’t even taken out of your bank account. With a fraudulent debit transaction, you actually lose the money until the bank returns it. With a credit card, you don’t even have to risk your own money.

More Troubling: Few Consumers Checking Their Credit Reports

It’s not all that troubling (and not very surprising) that consumers aren’t making huge strides stop using plastic in the wake of these data security breaches.

What’s worse is the fact that many consumers aren’t taking any steps to protect themselves at all. Only 41 percent have checked their credit reports, according to the Daily Finance article. In spite of the fact that Target is offering credit monitoring services, and it’s fairly easy to use AnnualCreditReport.com and other credit monitoring tools to stay on top of the situation, most Americans are changing anything.

Also problematic is that Daily Finance reports even fewer consumers have changed their passwords at compromised retailer sites, and that they haven’t requested new debit or credit card numbers. Years ago, when the PlayStation Network data breach compromised my credit card information, I called my issuer and immediate got a new number and a new card. It took no more than 10 minutes and was free.

Change Your Behaviors

No, you don’t have to convert to cash in order to protect yourself from identity fraud. However, you do need to make some changes to your behaviors in light of the recent data breaches. For the most part, these changes amount to paying better attention. Here are some things to do:

  • Carefully review transactions on your statements, looking for fraudulent charges.
  • Check your credit report regularly.
  • Notify card issuers and credit bureaus immediately if your information is compromised.
  • Use different username/password combinations for different sites.
  • Change your passwords on occasion.

Just paying attention to what’s happening can help you combat identity theft. It doesn’t have to take a lot of your time. If you are truly concerned about the time investment, you can consider signing up for credit monitoring so that you don’t always have to be on your toes.

Whatever you decide to do, though, it’s important to be aware, and to take steps to do what you can to protect yourself.

Watch Out for Tax Time Identity Theft

Now that April 15 is fast approaching, you probably have a lot on your mind. One of the things probably not on your mind during tax time is identity theft. This makes sense in a lot of ways; after all, what kind of mischief can fraudsters make in terms of your tax return?

Unfortunately, the reality is that tax time is a prime time for identity theft. If you aren’t careful, you could hand your vital personal information over to a scammer. On top of that, you might find that ID theft has resulted in someone else claiming your tax refund.

Image source: Philip Taylor via Flickr
Image source: Philip Taylor via Flickr

Tax Preparer Fraud

One of the things that you have to be on the watch for is tax preparer fraud. In these cases, a shady tax preparer promises you a bigger refund. Unfortunately, the methods used to obtain the bigger refund might not be IRS-approved.

A tax preparer might inflate your deductions, or misrepresent your income as lower than it actually is. In some cases, shady tax preparers claim credits that you aren’t entitled to. When the paperwork is done, the preparer shows you how big your refund is, and you are thrilled.

Unfortunately, if the IRS catches out the return, you will be on the hook for the penalties and interest. Plus, an accountant shady enough to resort to these tricks to inflate your refund isn’t likely to represent you to the IRS. You’ll be on your own.

Be especially wary of accountants that offer to prepare your return for “free” in return for a percentage of the refund. You’ll be charged up front, based on the amount you are shown. If you pay based on that wrong information, you will be out even more when the IRS rejects your paperwork.

On top of this, some fraudulent preparers will steal your personal information.

Scams to Get Your Personal Information

Some tax time identity theft scams go beyond just trying to get you to pay a little extra. There are tax preparers that are outright scammers. They tell you they are preparing your return, but really they want your information.

Your tax return is a huge source of sensitive personal information. Your name, address, Social Security number, and other information is shared on the form. If you want to receive your refund via direct deposit, even your bank account and routing information is included.

All a fraudster has to do is get the information for the tax form and then take off with your identity. Your return might not even get filed in this case, and then you’re on the hook for a failure to file on top of everything else. Watch out for tax preparers that approach you at community events, or that are willing to come to your home. Be sure to vet an accountant or tax preparer before entrusting him or her with your most personal information. Otherwise, you could find yourself a victim of identity theft.

How Safe is Your Tax Refund?

Another tax time identity theft scam that might impact you is refund fraud. With this type of identity fraud, the scammer uses your Social Security number and name to claim a refund. He or she simply fills out the Form 1040 using your information, and has the refund sent to his or her address.

When you file your own taxes — legitimately — you end up having your return rejected. The IRS thinks that you have already filed and received your refund. When you find that someone has claimed credits and a refund in your name, you need to act fast. You will need to prove your identity and file a Form 14039. Make sure you do it as quickly as possible.

A Note on Tax Time Phishing

Finally, be aware that phishing is a common way for identity fraudsters to try and get personal information. You’ll receive a scary-sounding email that says that there’s something wrong with your refund, or that you owe taxes and are facing jail time. You’ll be asked to click on a link and provide personal information an ID thief can use.

Realize that the IRS won’t ask for this information via email. If you are to receive an official communication of this nature, it will be via snail mail.

Be on your guard. Tax time identity theft is a very real threat to your finances.