This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on November 19, 2008.

More and more Canadians are dipping their mouse in the online e-commerce world. A recent StatsCan survey shows nearly half of Canadian internet users made an online purchase in 2007. We bought nearly $13B worth of goods last year, up 61% from the 2005 survey.

2008111924hrsWhile we’re getting more comfortable shopping online, more than 3/4 of us still have nagging thoughts in the back of our mind about credit card use online.

Avoiding the pitfalls in e-commerce requires simple, basic common sense; Dr. Phil styled advice. So instead of talking to internet security experts, I canvassed some online friends for bread and butter basics when it comes to protecting your online identity.

Duane Storey boils it down to simply looking for a web address that starts with https instead of http. The “s” on the end of the address means it’s through a secure socket layer.

“Http is not encrypted,” explains Duane. “So anyone can intercept and read. Https is encrypted, so all traffic is secure and cannot be read if intercepted.”

Brian LeRoux adds another warning, “just because a website utilizes SSL (that little lock in the bottom right of your browser) doesn’t mean you can actually trust the vendor.”

Brian recommends sticking to big name vendors, like Amazon.

Once you know what you want to buy, what you use to buy it also matters. And we mean the browser you’re using to access the web. Brian warns you to stay away from Internet Explorer.

“IE is the most insecure and often attacked web browser. Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome are safer browsers,” he says.

Still nervous? Make sure the website has a phone number, and call to speak with the person.

If handing over your credit card is what makes you uncomfortable, get a separate “online only” credit card with a smaller limit. Since you’ll only be using it for web transactions, it will be easier to track charges that aren’t yours.

Tracking a company’s history should also be part of your buying research. Sites like RipOffReport.com have active message boards where consumers share bad experiences about companies and transactions.

In the end, common sense should reign supreme. As Brian explains: “do not be afraid to do business online: ask your friends, Google the vendor, read the feedback online.”

However, should something happen and your identity gets compromised, the BC Crime Prevention Association has a list of 9 steps you need to take. The first is to make a list of what has been stolen, and track all the activity on those accounts.

Tis the season to be shopping, and some of the best deals of the season are on the web. With some simple common sense, taking part in the e-commerce revolution shouldn’t be a painful experience.

BLOGOSPHERE BUZZ

Barack Obama used the web to get elected, and will keep using it once he’s in office. He now has set up his own YouTube channel and will release weekly statements. Hmm, I wonder if Oprah showed him how to do that? The other “O” has had her own channel since the spring.

Obama, however, won’t be able to take his Blackberry to the Oval Office. The Presidential Records Act makes all correspondence a part of an official record, so Presidents are forced to give up email before entering office. There is talk that Obama will try to keep his Blackberry as a “read only” device, but the Secret Service is said to have security concerns.

Tis the season to grow pointy ears, put on tights and have jingle bells on your toes. Local blogger Gus Fosarolli is happily reminding all the popular Elf Yourself website is back for another round of Holiday fun. The site, from OfficeMax, lets you cut and paste your face on to a dancing elf.

You want to know how Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good? He follows you on Twitter. Both the jolly old elf, and his wife have popped up in the follow accounts of many local twitterers this week. All of a sudden the behviour has changed from naughty to nice.

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