From:         Bob Rankin 
Subject:      TOURBUS - 04 Nov 2003 - Online Privacy


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

Last month, 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.


Is it safe to use a credit card online? My answer to this is a resounding YES. In fact, it's 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 and sell it to some guy in the alley. The telephone clerk has your full billing address and phone number, making 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 your browser shows the little padlock icon at the bottom of the screen, indicating a secure connection. When you submit info from a secure page, your browser will encrypt all personal information before sending.

If you 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.

Another good idea: Credit card purchase receipts discarded with household trash could be found by anyone willing to sift through your coffee grounds and chicken bones. Small personal shredders can be purchased for under $20 at office supply or department stores.


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 July 2002 NY Times article explores this further and offers some tips on how to limit what others can learn about you online:


Linda from Marlinton, West Virginia recently wrote and said "The next best thing to Tourbus is the Smart Computing magazine that you guys recommend. I've been getting it since last summer and it has solved numerous problems for me and my friends."

Thanks, Linda! We hope other Tourbus riders will discover the Plain English answers to their computing questions that Smart Computing delivers every month. Do you want to speed up your PC? Get rid of spyware and keep hackers out? Try Smart Computing today -- get your FREE TRIAL issue NOW!

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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