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Natl Cybersecurity Month: Credit Card vs. Identity Theft

October 20, 2009

The Christmas holidays are a little more than two months away and more people than ever will be doing their shopping online as opposed to brick-and-mortar retail stores.  With October being National Cybersecurity Month, now is the time to make sure you make those online purchases safely, so as not to become a victim of credit card, or more importantly, identity theft.

“Most people confuse credit card theft with identity theft and they are really two different things,” says Abbe Forman, a computer and information science instructor in Temple’s College of Science and Technology.

creditcard_lgCredit card theft is the theft of either your physical credit card or credit card number by someone who wants to spend up to your credit limit and max out your card, while identity theft is the swiping of someone’s actual identity, says Forman, an expert in computer ethics.

“Generally, with identity theft, someone will get hold of your social security number and use it to get themselves credit cards in your name or take out a mortgage–which can be a huge amount of money–in your name or take out loans in your name and just spend, spend, spend,” she says. “Meanwhile, they’re destroying your credit which can take seven years of very hard work to correct.”

While most credit card companies have mechanisms in place to catch fraudulent charges on your credit card, people who have had their identity stolen may not be aware of it for a long period of time.

Forman suggests routinely checking your credit card and bank statements for suspicious activity credit-cardson your accounts.  She also recommends checking your credit report, which you can often acquire for free, every year or two.

If you are going to buy something online, make sure the Web site is legitimate and secure.

“When making an online purchase from a legitimate site, make sure that the Web address bar starts with ‘https’ as opposed to the normal ‘http,’” Forman says.  “When the ‘s’ is included, it tells you that the Web site is using secure socket layers and that your information is being encrypted both ways.”

And lastly, Forman warns, never, ever respond to an e-mail that requests you to supply your personal information, no matter how legitimate the e-mail might look.

“Thieves have gotten so good that they’re using Photoshop to recreate actual looking Web sites in their e-mails,” she says.  “If you get an e-mail that says your account has been compromised, call the company to verify it.”

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