‘Tis the Season to be Careful Online


About 61 million Americans will shop online for holiday gifts this year. Yet behind those enticing Web sites lurk cyber Scrooges , hackers who want a piece of the $24 billion online shopping pie.

One out of 10 online shoppers could become a victim of online fraud this season, warns the National Consumers League and National Cyber Security Alliance.
“Hackers make money and use that money to avoid detection,” says Alan White ’98, a computer science alumnus who was hired by the University nearly four years ago as its information security architect.

White offers these tips to help consumers keep the ho, ho, ho in the holidays.

1. Be computer secure: There are 5,000 new viruses every week, according to the URI expert. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and keep them up-to-date. Many of the virus protection programs are free. Check to see if the company is reputable before downloading.

2. Be suspicious: Check out unfamiliar e-stores with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. Look for a physical address and phone number. Call the company to verify.

3. Buy a pre-paid credit card: When shopping online, don’t use your main debit or credit card. Purchase a pre-paid credit card, limiting the amount to what you estimate you will be spending.

4. Be sure purchase sites are secure: When you are asked to provide payment information online, the beginning of the Web site address should change from http to https, indicating the information is being encrypted and can only be read by the seller. Your browser may also signal that the information is secure with a symbol such as a broken key that becomes whole or a padlock that closes.

5. Beware of offers of loans and credit: Con artists take advantage of cash-strapped consumers during the holidays through email offers of personal loans or credit cards for upfront fees.

6. Avoid pop up screen ploys: When you visit a company Web site, an unauthorized pop up screen created by an identity thief could pop up and ask you for personal information. No legitimate company asks for such information.