It has now become second nature for many consumers to complete online applications as they subscribe for services, join social media groups or shop online. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that many of these websites ask for personal information that can expose consumers to potential identity theft or credit fraud.
Fortunately, there are tools and resources that online shoppers can use to protect their privacy and personal information when completing online application forms:
- Updated browser.
The first line of defense is to use a current, up-to-date browser. Today’s modern browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox and Explorer, can warn consumers if a site is considered safe or suspicious. If the website contains suspicious files or programs, the browser will often block a site from appearing and warn visitors to avoid the site.
The best way to determine if a site is secure is through the URL address in the browser bar. A secure site will begin with “https” instead of the standard “http” in the URL box. HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol using Secure Sockets Layer. All secure sites will begin with “https:” in the URL. If the site does not have this security layer, any data provided on that site is transmitted over the internet without encryption – and can be intercepted by potential hackers. If a form does not use a secure sockets layer, website visitors should refrain from ever providing any personally identifiable information, such as social security, bank routing or a bank account numbers.
- Safeguard your SS number.
There are very few instances when a transaction ever requires a social security number. Many loan and credit applications do require them, but only to pull a credit report to determine eligibility or approval. If you are required to provide a social security number, make sure that the form is under the “https” security layer.
- Beware email forms and links.
Emails, particularly spam emails, are still one of the favorite tools of internet spammers and scammers. Consumers should always be wary of following links from an email, especially if they later ask for personal information. Email links can easily take unsuspecting consumers to “official-looking” sites, which are actually scam copies of legitimate sites. In addition, online shoppers should never fill out an email form – because email forms are rarely ever secure.
The cat-and-mouse game between website publishers, developers and security experts on one side and hackers, scammers and spammers on the other side has been ongoing since the early days of the internet. Website developers, IT experts and cyber security professionals have made tremendous strides in making the web more secure for consumers and commerce.
Unfortunately, no website is ever 100% secure. There are always weak points in every web security system – and those weak points typically involve human errors or negligence.
The best tools consumers have to protect themselves from online identity theft or fraud is awareness and common sense. Whether you’re applying for a personal loan or shopping for a deal on a new laptop computer, be on alert for any of the red flags mentioned above. Most importantly, make sure to take the time to ensure that the website you’re buying from or signing up is backed by a company that can be trusted.