Computers and Consumers – Understanding & Avoid Identity Theft The Internet has given over a billion people, worldwide, a way to instantly find information. The number of threats to a consumer’s security increases as the consumer connects with more computers, companies, and people online. The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says that all Internet users should understand the importance of online security and should take measures to protect themselves. Why the Need for Security & How to Protect Yourself The Computer: Part of a computers sophistication lies in its ability to connect with other computers over the Internet in order to bring you information. When it is connected with other computers, it opens itself up for the transmission of information, which can create vulnerability for the computer. Hackers can connect to the computer, scan it for open ports, and gain access to unauthorized information about the computer user. Most computers have an Intrusion Detection System (“IDS”) that monitors the computer for suspicious activity. When suspicious activity is detected, the IDS sends an alert that an intrusion has occurred. An IDS alone will not protect your computer from incoming hackers and viruses. Computer users also need to protect themselves with firewalls, which create a barrier between hackers and the computer and help to prevent access to unauthorized information. The Computer User: The computer user can also accidentally open doors that will lead to a security breach, such as when the user is using the Internet to make purchases. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. e-commerce sales for the year 2007 were $136.4 billion. Although the Internet has made shopping a whole lot easier, it has also increased the number of instances of identity theft. A study conducted by the US Department of Justice reports that 6.4 million households experienced some kind of identity theft in 2005. Consumers also open themselves up to increased junk e-mail called SPAM when shopping online. Thankfully, there are ways to minimize your risk when shopping online. Be careful where you post your personal email address. Consumers using the Internet increase their chances of receiving SPAM e-mail each time they provide their e-mail address to make a purchase. As mentioned earlier, hackers can access consumer information by scanning ports that are not secure. Consumers can help protect themselves by only providing information that is necessary when making the purchase. There are companies designed to help protect consumers from e-commerce identity theft and SPAM. When providing payment information, consumers should always make sure the site is secure. An easy way to determine whether a site is secure is to look at the web address bar at the top of the screen. The http, which precedes the address, should change to https when checking out on a shopping site. The ‘s’ indicates that the consumer is shopping from a secure page. Finally, a consumer should avoid using ATM/debit cards to make purchases, as the breach of this information could lead to unauthorized access of the consumer’s bank account information. Use a credit card instead. Most credit card companies will work on behalf of their client, should a hacker steal their credit card information. In many cases, the consumer will only be responsible for $50 of the transactions. When a consumer shops wisely on the Internet and acts in conjunction with private Internet security sites and the FTC they will decrease the chances of being one of the six million households affected by identity theft.