The United States Department of Justice has called the Internet "an appealing place for criminals to obtain identifying data, such as passwords or banking information". Of the estimated 16.6 million people who were the victim of identity theft in 2012, many of them were targeted online, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Whether you are a novice Internet user or a seasoned pro, there are steps you should take to ensure that your details are safe, especially when shopping online or filling out forms with sensitive data.
Website Security Badges
The site is beautiful, flashy, well-designed, and selling that little thing that you've been searching for. You're ready to buy, but before you grab your credit card, you should check out the site's security badges. According to McAfee, a security badge is a trustmark that assures browsers of the security of a site.
There are all kinds of security badges, including McAfee Secure, PayPal Verified, VeriSign, TRUSTe, and others. It can be difficult for consumers to know which ones to trust. Keep in mind that each security badge signifies a different level or type of security. For example, McAfee Secure scans for more than 55,000 vulnerabilities, while a BBB Accredited Business badge indicates something about the business's trustworthiness.
The Most-Trusted Security Badges
A recent poll of 2,510 respondents by the Baymard Institute shows that online shoppers clearly trust some badges more than others. More than a third of those who responded indicated they trusted Norton Secured the most. McAfee Secure came in second, backed by a quarter of respondants. TRUSTe and BBB Accredited Business tied for third with 13.2 percent of the votes. However, simply because other consumers trust a certain badge doesn't make it the most secure.
Trust Seals versus SSL Seals
To the average Internet user, trust seals and SSL seals look exactly the same. But according to the SANS Institute, an Internet security training company, there are critical differences between trust seals and SSL seals. Trust seals certify something about a certain aspect of the company or about its customer relations. This is true even if the trust seal is from an anti-virus company like McAFee.
SSL seals, on the other hand, represent something about the technical security of the site. These seals promise that your information won't be compromised when you submit it. SSL seals promise you protection from the middle man who tries to steal your details as they are being transmitted.
What Should Consumers Look for?
When in doubt, investigate each security badge that you see on a site. As a general rule of thumb, if you are going to use a site with just one security badge, you can trust Norton or McAfee. Ideally, however, you should look for more than one security badge on the sites you use.
One badge should indicate that you have an encrypted connection, a second that you are on a non-infected site, and a third that the company has a positive history of consumer relations. An example of this type of trifecta would be Norton for encryption, McAFee for non-infection, and TRUSTe or BBB Accredited to indicate trust in consumer relations.
Unfortunately, even a site with multiple security badges can still be compromised, and none of these badges can provide protection from phishing scams. Ultimately, the best way for consumers to protect their personal information is to use an identity monitoring system like LifeLock. These types of programs are essential as they alert consumers to potential security breaches and, according to the Justice Department, most identity-theft victims aren't even aware that they've been victimized until after their bank or financial institution contacts them.