From: Bob Rankin 
Subject: TOURBUS - 30 Jul 02 - Online Privacy


The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved

Last week, I wrote about identify theft, and promised that we'd continue the series with an article about your online privacy. Read on to learn how to use your credit card safely in cyberspace, and find out what others can learn about you on the very public world wide web.

NOTE: Right after the last issue was published, the server hosting this offer went bonkers, and many of you who tried to access it got a different site. That problem is fixed now, so let me say once again this offer is for real. I've ordered and received the product myself and highly recommend the Norton utilities for everyone.


Is it safe to use a credit card online? My answer to this is a resounding YES. It is far safer to use your credit card at a reputable online store than it is to give it to a waiter in a restaurant or a telephone clerk at a mail-order company.

The waiter could copy down the card number & expiration date and sell it to some guy in the alley. The telephone clerk has your full billing address and phone number, which makes it even easier to use the card fraudulently. But on the Internet, most transactions occur automatically, with no human interaction. Nobody ever sees your credit card number. Of course there have been situations where an Evil Hacker broke into a company's customer database and stole credit card information. But this could happen to any company, whether or not they do business on the Internet.

--> Bottom line: Using your credit card ANYWHERE carries a certain --> amount of risk. Using it on the Internet is quite safe, as long --> as you keep in mind these two important rules:

1) Never send your credit card info by email.

2) Never whip out the plastic unless the online store's order form address begins with "https". The "s" indicates a secure connection, and instructs your browser to encrypt all your personal information before sending.

If you should ever suspect that your credit card number has been compromised, contact the issuing bank immediately. In most cases, your liability for purchases made without your permission is little or nothing. If you have a dispute with a merchant about a charge that appears on your credit card bill, you can issue a chargeback request through your bank. The merchant will have to prove that you in fact ordered and received the goods, or the charge will be removed.


What information about you is publicly available on the Web? In the past, only government agencies and businesses were able to access personal information. Today, Internet search engines allow almost anyone to find information about friends, co-workers, job applicants, etc.

Online phone directories enable anyone, anywhere, to find your phone nunmber and street address. More and more government information, such as property ownership, voter registration and court filings are being made available online. Many newspapers print the full text of stories and classifieds online. School websites publish student information and sometimes photos. Professional and club newsletters may unwittingly reveal things about you that you'd rather the whole world didn't know.

Other sites, such as and Speedy Search offer fee-based access to certain information such as school classmates, criminal records, credit files, and background checks. In most cases, you will have to prove that you have a need to know and are authorized to receive non-public data about other people.

Try this exercise: Look for your name in a search engine. Then try your local newspaper website, your child's school, and your college alumni site. Check what's available about you at genealogical servers, Usenet, Web archives and in club newsletters. Here are some starting points for research:

General Search Engine -

Phone & Address Lookup -

Usenet Search Engine -

Genealogy -

Web Archives -

You may be surprised at what others, especially if they are motivated and savvy, can learn. A recent NY Times article looks into this further and offers some tips on how to limit what others can learn about you online:


In my next TOURBUS article, we'll look into some ways to address email privacy, and stem the tide of spam that affects us all. That's all for now, I'll see you next time! --Bob Rankin

The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved
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