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The following article from PC WEEK regarding purchasing via the Internet appears here unedited and in its entirety. This text is provided only as an opinion, the final decision on credit card usage is the responsibility of the card holder.

PC Week April 10, 1995 v12 n14 p55(1)

Shopping the Internet is safe as buying at the mall.

(credit card numbers easy to obtain offline, too)

Author - Ben Rothke

Abstract Consumers are concerned about having their credit card numbers stolen if they transmit them over the Internet during online purchases, but such risks are prevalent every day in the non-computer world as well. Aspiring credit card thieves can obtain such information from a variety of poorly-secured sources, including charge slips in waste bins, retail employees tempted by payoffs or faxed-in credit card orders. Credit card companies already use precautions in processing charge authorization requests and reserve the right to refuse a transaction. Internet security is an important issue, but the Internet is no more dangerous a milieu for conducting credit card transactions than the average shopping mall.

Full Text There have been a lot of "do" and "don't" articles lately about how users should operate on the Internet. One of the caveats that I have seen often is that users should be extremely wary before sending their credit-card numbers to vendors over the Internet. I think that for the average user, that suggestion is pointless and defeats a lot of the benefits afforded by shopping on the Net. There seem to be more fallacies about the Internet and its abuse than actual facts about its use.

It is correct that the Internet is one large nudist colony of data: There are few walls of security and protection on the Internet today. But that is also true outside of cyberspace. The Net is no more insecure than the retail world in which we do business, where we are mainly unconcerned about security.

Although there are hackers lurking on the Internet stealing credit-card numbers, there are many more devious individuals rummaging through the trash bins at Kmart searching for discarded charge-card slips, paying the employee who makes minimum wage at Wal-Mart $50 for photocopies of charge slips, or calling their buddies at the Department of Motor Vehicles for drivers' license numbers. The employee behind the cash register may see more than 100 credit-card numbers on a busy day. After 20 days, that equals Net hacker Kevin Mitnick's total of 20,000 credit-card numbers.

The threat of security breaches on the Internet is real and should be dealt with. But the Internet threat is minimal compared with the current security breaches occurring hourly in other places.

There is also an immense difference between Chemical Bank daily transferring billions of dollars electronically (where security is critical) and Joe Citizen ordering a $200 jacket from Eddie Bauer and charging it to his Visa card. With every major credit card, the purchaser has the ability to "charge back" or refuse to pay for a certain purchase. There is a significant amount of protection afforded by the charge companies to their clients.

Although there might be hackers lurking out in cyberspace, there are also crooked employees lurking behind the cash registers at stores, working in the accounting department, rummaging through your discarded mail, and so forth. In the last five years I estimate that I have written more than 500 checks where my credit-card number was written on the check. I have also faxed orders with my credit-card number clearly written on the fax. I have yet to find an illegitimate charge on my monthly statement.

While the past is no guarantee for the future, the Internet and electronic commerce, in my opinion, pose no greater danger to the consumer than any other form of money transfer, be it by paper, mule, or other means.

Ben Rothke is network manager at Track Data Corp., a market-data vendor based in New York. He can be reached on the Internet at ber@tdc.com.

Shopping the Internet is safe as buying at the mall.
PC Week: Apr 10, 1995
© Ziff-Davis Publishing Company 1995


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