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The Risks of Online Shopping


It is the season for shopping--and for returning. Online shopping has become as much a part of the holiday season as a trip to the department stores used to be. The convenience of shopping via your mobile device paired with in many cases a better selection of goods available online has translated to a booming cyber retail business. Unfortunately, it has also led to a booming fraud and identity theft business.

The risks associated with shopping online fall into two main categories: deception and invasion. The risk of deception involves buying items from a fraudulent website, or from one advertising an illegitimate business. The risk of invasion means invasion into your computer and therefore your personal information. In addition, hackers can breach online business databases to get customer payment information.


Identity theft is defined as when a thief gains unauthorized access to important personal documents and information, such as social security numbers or credit card numbers, and illegally uses these numbers to make purchases, obtain credit or loans, or to benefit in other ways. In 2012, 16.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft.

So who are the biggest targets of identity theft? By sector of the economy, found that in 2014, the medical/healthcare industry had the highest percentage of security breaches (42.5%), with the business sector in second place (33%). The government/military had the third highest number of security breaches (11.7%), with the financial/banking industry at fourth place (5.5%).

But break down the victims of identity theft into groups of people rather than business sectors, and the results suddenly become more personal. Four targeted groups emerge: (1) people 18-24 years old are more likely to be victims of identity theft because they use debit and credit cards at a higher rate, and they tend to use their smartphones to shop and complete financial transactions--often accessing WiFi in public places where hacker attacks are more likely; (2) high-income earners; 10% of this group is victim to some form of identity theft every year; (3) people with weak passwords (see "tips" for how to protect your information with a better password); and (4) young children have actually become a target of identity theft; approximately 150,000 children are victims of identity theft a year; because children have social security numbers, hackers can steal these numbers and use them to apply for loans, open lines of credit, etc. Because many parents don't check a young child's credit report--assuming there is no activity on it--the fraud can go undetected for a long time.


Although online shopping and financial transactions will inevitably carry some risk of fraud and identity theft, there are some steps that can be taken to mitigate those risks. One of the ways to avoid fraud is to research the company you plan to do business with if you are not familiar with it. Make sure the company is a legitimate business and that its products have received good reviews/ratings.

To minimize breaches, the following are some security tips:

Install and keep current good anti-malware software on all devices;

Optimize a device's security settings;

Share payment information only with known and reputable vendors; if not sure about the vendor, do some research or use a third party payment processor such as PayPal or Google Checkout;

Use a credit card not a debit card, or possibly a pre-paid credit card that has a fixed limit; debit cards are tied directly to your checking account, and if someone gets access to the debit card information, then they have access to your checking account;

Make sure the order/checkout area online is encrypted; this is typically indicated with a padlock icon and a website address that begins with "https"--make sure the s is at the end;

Print and/or save a copy of your orders

Use strong passwords; do not use your birthday, the names of your pets or children, or other personal information as part of a password; do use random words, eight or more characters and a mix of numbers, special characters and upper and lower case;

Check your bank account and credit card statements often.


If you or someone you love is the victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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