North Texas Daily

Experts provide advice to avoid online identity theft

Experts provide advice to avoid online identity theft

Experts provide advice to avoid online identity theft
November 19
09:23 2013

Mollie Jamison / Staff Writer

As the holiday season approaches, many people turn to online shopping as a quick and convenient alternative to trips to the mall. However, online shopping poses risks of online identity theft and fraud. But UNT merchandising and retail experts said it can be easily prevented.

Kiseol Yang, associate professor in UNT’s College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism, said that according to the Federal Trade Commission, millions of Americans find they are victims of identify theft.

Yang said when consumers shop online, they need to make sure the site is secure from cyber criminals. Yang suggested that consumers do the following:

• Check the number of years the website has done online business

• Check to make sure the website has a certified, secure program (Verisign, Thawte or a third-party approval like the Better Business Bureau)

• Run virus protection regularly

• Use your own computer rather than public ones for monetary transactions.

There were more than 12 million identity fraud victims just last year. Richard Last, lecturer and founder of the UNT Merchandising and Digital Retailing program, said that although online data security issues are a problem, it is not necessary to be overly concerned.

“There is no reason to be paranoid about it because actually most data, security and identity theft issues are done in mass, not in individual shoppers,” Last said. “You have more risk with your identity when you register at UNT for classes every semester than you do shopping.”

Last said there are several ways to tell if a website is safe and secure.

“Buy from a site that you are familiar with or have shopped with before,” Last said. “Read the ratings and the reviews on the website. If it’s a lesser-known company they probably have some type of seal that is on the site.”

Last said when you checkout on a website you should enter a secure portion of the site.

“Secure means a couple of things,” Last said. “It means the data itself is encrypted so it’s not readable by the human eye and hard to decipher by a machine. It also means that the data is not stored in any of the servers behind the firewall of the mainframe computers.”

Last said the worst example of a large-scale security breach in retail was several years ago at TJ Maxx Corporation.

“It wasn’t individual shopping – it was somebody that got into their system and extracted all the personal information and credit card data information,” Last said. “They’ll be audited for the next 10 to 25 years. That was the retail example that got everybody extra concerned.”

Last said security breaches happen when hackers access databases that aren’t secure.

“Universities are the biggest culprits as far as hackers, probably because you have college students that are hackers,” Last said.  “Retailers are held to a very high standard because of compliance issues with the Federal Trade Commission.”

Last said the FTC has the regulatory authority to fine people who are not in compliance based on occurrence.

“It happened to Google and it happened to Facebook where the FTC felt that the information was not being properly secured and it was a multi-million dollar fine,” Last said.

Last also recommended using PayPal for an extra layer of security.

Pamela Valenzuela, fashion merchandising senior, said she worries about identify theft when shopping online and is very careful about the websites she uses. She said the benefits of online shopping versus in store have been brought up in her classes.

“Some benefits of shopping online versus the store include being able to find sizes easily as well as having the commodity of shopping within your own home,” Valenzuela said. “Even though shopping online is convenient for a lot of people, there is still a big part of the population that would much rather shop at the actual store where they can touch and try on the product before making a purchase.”

Fashion merchandising senior Savannah Myles said some retailers have created virtual dressing rooms for online shoppers.

Myles said when shopping online she doesn’t worry about identity theft if it is a website she is familiar with.

“If it is a site that I’m unfamiliar with and I can’t find insight on other consumers’ experiences with shopping on the site, then I won’t make a purchase,” Myles said. “This is due to the many scams that are taking place in the digital world.”

Feature photo: Criminal justice sophomore Alexandra Boos shops at TJMAXX online. Boos views the new winter style selections. Photo by Larissa Mathews / Intern Photographer 

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