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 The Low-down on Buying Online!

Steve Refuses To Buy Online
With all the data and identity theft, I absolutely refuse to use my credit card online. I am not willing to take that risk until online merchants can prove to me that my information is safe. I understand there are many who don't feel like I do. Maybe you guys can shed some light on why you think people should buy online in light of the problems and identity theft that seems so prevalent these days. I trust your opinion and I really like your newsletters. Thanks, Steve.

Thank you, Steve. First let's touch on "Identity Theft". It is a problem, we agree. But it has nothing to do with security breaches or buying online. It has to do with phishing scams and people just not using common sense. If you receive an email that appears to be from a credit card company, financial institution, or other company seeking your personal information (name, address, social security number, credit card numbers, date of birth, etc.) the first thing you should do is be very skeptical. We cannot think of one single financial institution who would ask this sort of information in an email. And secondly - If you receive an email that appears to be from a credit card company or other financial institution that begins "Dear Customer", "Dear Credit Card Holder", "Dear Valued Member"...stop and think. Would a company address you in this way if they were going to ask for you personal information? No. The best thing to do if you're not sure is logon to the site by typing in the URL yourself in the browser's address bar - NEVER CLICK A LINK IN AN EMAIL THAT IS ASKING FOR YOU TO "UPDATE" YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION or "VERIFY" that information. NEVER CLICK A LINK IN A LETTER LIKE THIS! If you get a letter from, let's say, Citibank,  and you're not sure if it's authentic, then open your browser, type in and contact them directly. Or, if you prefer, call the financial institution. It's better to be safe than sorry. Identities are most often "given away" as these types of email trick people into giving their personal info away - Identities are rarely stolen.

Let us try to, as best we can, dispel the perceived risks of using a credit card online. Let's say you're shopping at your favorite retailer, you're ready to check out. You hand your credit card to the cashier and she/he swipes it through the reader. Then you sign your name and you're on your way. On your way home, you decide to stop for a nice dinner. You splurge and enjoy a great lobster dinner, a bottle of Chateau De Morinz and then your realize you don't have $225.00 to pay the bill. You're not worried, though. You have plastic. You hand the credit card to your waiter and he takes it to the cashier and he swipes it through the reader. Now your credit card has passed through the hands of at least two people. You're trusting them that your credit card information is not being copied and saved somewhere. Right? The waiter, returns your card to you and you conclude your evening full and broke :-). But, we're betting that neither time you used your credit card you gave the slightest thought to the security in place when you were using it. After all, you weren't puchasing "online" were you?

When your credit card is swiped through a magnetic reader the data is being transmitted via the Internet to a database on the Internet, checked against that database, verified and approved or not, in matter of a few seconds. The database is online, your credit card number was entered online and your transaction completed online. Online banking, rapidly becoming widely popular, means that your bank account information (even if you don't avail yourself of the convenience of online banking) is stored online.

The fact is with today's SSL (Secure Sockets Layers) and encryption techniques, your data is very safe online. Encryption techniques used today ensure that a different encryption key is used for each transaction, it's randomly chosen from millions of possible combinations. It's quite fascinating to learn how it's done. PayPal uses the most modern security techniques and this is typically how all major credit card processing centers are set up. You can read about PayPal's security by clicking here and you'll get a good idea of how it all works and why it's so safe. You can tell when you're on a secure server as the "http://" changes to "https://" .

More facts: Most credit card companies won't make you pay a cent if your card was used fraudulently for an online purchase. That tells us they're very confident that the safeguards in effect today are excellent. Credit card companies are not in the business of losing money. The security breaches you hear about online are not breaches which involve individual transaction, rather they involve entire databases which have been compromised because these "storage" facilities' security isn't up to snuff. You hardly ever hear of an individual institution being breached. Security breaches happen rarely and when they have happened in the past they have mostly involved third-party data storage facilities which offer a service to financial institutions. Recently these types of data storage centers have come under intense government scrutiny both in the United States and in other countries.

So, whether you actually purchase online or you buy something at your local retailer with a credit card, your credit card data is being stored and transmitted over the Internet. In short: You're buying online whether you buy from your local grocery store or from We personally feel more comfortable buying online than we do handing our credit-card to some underpaid clerk in a local gas station. And that's our take on buying online.

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