Ken Colburn: By following a few simple rules, an Internet-based transaction can actually be one of the most secure ways to use your credit card.
Q. I'd like to hear more about credit card fraud when online shopping. Are there any e-tail Web sites out there that are actually secure? - Greg
A. There has been much misinformation spread about online shopping that has given the impression the Internet is the cause of most credit card fraud.
Credit card fraud schemes have been around a lot longer than the Internet, and the time-tested methods of gaining access to your credit cards (stolen wallets and purses, dumpster diving, etc.) are still the most likely way that you will become a victim of fraud.
The reality is that by following a few simple rules, an Internet-based transaction can actually be one of the most secure ways to use your credit card because no human other than you is involved in the transaction.
When it comes to shopping online, retailers that offer e-commerce always use secure pages to complete a transaction. If you make sure the page you are about to enter credit card info onto has the https:// instead of just http://, then you are working with a secured page. It should also display an image of a yellow lock either in the bottom right corner or next to the address bar.
The real threats from online transactions are a lot less about the sites that you do business with and a lot more about how you use and maintain your computer.
If you don't keep your operating system updates current, don't keep your anti-malware programs up to date or fall for any of the thousands of e-mail phishing or fake download scams, then you could easily allow a silent "keylogger" to be installed to record every keystroke you make.
These hidden programs are getting more and more sophisticated, and they can sidestep your protection programs because they got you or your children to download something that had a hidden Trojan program in it.
If you notice that your computer is taking a long time to start up and that it seems to be very slow, especially when you try to do things on the Internet, you might want to avoid any electronic transactions or online banking until you get your system inspected.
Credit card companies have done a really good job of making it easy to report fraud and shield their customers from any financial losses. Most companies have a zero-liability policy when fraud has been determined.
As a side note, debit cards typically carry similar coverage for fraud. But if someone uses your debit card fraudulently, the amount in question is tied up until things get cleared up, meaning that your checking account balance is impacted immediately. Be careful where and how you use your debit card, not just online.
Another common non-Internet scam that is on the rise is credit card "skimming." Credit card thieves are bribing restaurant and retail employees to double swipe cards on a small portable recording device and pay them for each card they skim. It's much easier to find willing participants in a down economy.
Do your best to watch anyone you give your credit card to, and try not to allow your card to leave your sight if you can help it. Pay cash if you aren't comfortable with the situation.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.