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Be Careful With Online Holiday Shopping


Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005

Yes, it is time to dig deep into your wallets and fork over some cash to spread mirth and merriment this holiday season by purchasing presents for your loved ones. And, if you have spent any time on the Internet (which is almost a certainty given that you are reading this piece), there could be no easier way to buy gifts than to do so online. So, what's the rub? Well, if you do not take prudent steps, bad things potentially could happen to you. Keep reading.

Forrester Research predicts that online holiday shopping will increase a whopping 25% this year, with 2.5 million households making online purchases for the first time. Indeed, TRUSTe reports that 78% of Internet users in the United States will conduct some of their shopping online.

Of course, a greater number of online purchases translates to increased risk of a parade of horribles, including identity theft, viruses, phishing, worms and spyware. Fears related to this risk has led 40% of consumers not to make purchases from small online retailers, 22% not to make any online purchases, and 14% to substantially limit online spending, according to TRUSTe.

Perhaps these fears are well founded, as a survey by Consumer Reports indicates that Internet users face a one-third chance of experiencing financial loss, computer damage or both due to viruses, spyware or hackers. These are fairly sobering statistics.

What is a would-be holiday online shopper to do? Bottom line - be smart and try to abide by the following practical tips recommended by the CEO a company called Sereniti, Inc.:

  • Print copies of all online receipts so that they can be checked against credit card bills.
  • Print copies of all guarantees and warranties.
  • Do not respond to emails asking customers for personal information. Businesses and financial institutions rarely reach out on their own seeking such information. It is better to contact a business directly on your own.
  • Online retailers that display TRUSTe and Better Business Bureau seals likely are to be trusted to safeguard personal information.
  • Note whether Web sites begin with "https" instead of "http" in the browser area and whether they display a padlock icon in the lower right hand border of the browser window, as this indicates secure encryption to protect customer identities.
  • If possible, avoid providing social security numbers online.
  • Make sure that online retailers have solid privacy polices that make clear that customer information will not be sold or transferred after a transaction occurs.

Keep these tips in mind, drink some eggnog, spend money, and have a happy holiday season!

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris (, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is (, and he can be reached at To receive a weekly e-mail link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an e-mail with the word Subscribe in the Subject line to This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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