Sunday, January 11, 2009

Keep Your Credit Card Safe When Shopping For an Online Bargain

Most credit card users already are aware that their credit card information could be at risk on the Internet if precautions are not taken. News stories have focused on major security breaches that endangered consumers with loss of personal financial data. But what many financial fraud experts are warning is that hackers are increasingly targeting small, commercial Websites.

In certain instances, fraudsters are able to gain real-time access to these small websites transaction information, enabling them to steal valid credit card information and hastily ring up large numbers of fraudulent charges.

Identity thieves may have fewer potential victims at smaller websites, but they are often able to operate with greater ease due to potentially less robust software the sites use for online order processing, or due to a dependence on outsourced Web site security. Fraud prevention professionals note that many smaller websites sometimes rely on generic shopping cart software that they neglect to update with the latest software security patches.

For victims of identity theft, a stolen credit card number is often just the first step a thief will take. Generally, the criminals who steal credit card information do not use it themselves, but instead sell it along with many other card numbers to other scammers. The theft of credit card data, combined with other personal information, can allow identity thieves to gain additional information about their victims, according to experts.

Identity theft victims may find that criminals make charges at websites that sell online background checks on consumers. These background checks can help fraudsters create a more complete file on a victim to aid further in identity theft or establish a more appealing record for re-sale in the identity theft underworld. Thieves who start with a credit card number may also get ahold of the a phone number, address, e-mail address, and other data that can be used to gain further information on the target or open up new lines in the victim's name.

Regardless of the prevalence or sophistication of internet criminals, risk can potentially be mitigated by only shopping online with merchants you trust (i.e. larger, established retailers) and that have secure checkout pages. It may also be a good idea to closely monitor your credit report activity on a quarterly or even monthly basis with the three major credit bureaus to ensure no one is trying to establish unauthorized credit in your name.

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