Online data theft can happen when you least expect it


November 4, 2001


Identity theft and cybercrime don't hit the top news much these days, but rest assured its still out there, according to a reader who lives in Louisville, Ky.

A customer of a Web site for a bricks-and-mortar beauty products retailer found out recently that being careful about secured transactions isn't always enough to thwart a determined hacker.

Having purchased products online at the Web site, she trusted their security and customer service.

During her latest purchased at the Web site, as part of the ordering process, she was asked for her social security number and a three-digit code from her credit card.

It was additional information she hadn't been asked for, but she provided the requested information and completed her order.

A few days after her order, she received an e-mail from the site informing her that customer information had been illegally accessed from their server -- possibly including her name, address, credit card data, social security number and birth date.

A hacker apparently created the Web page that requested the "extra" information, she was told. The site alerted its customers and the FBI to the possible criminal theft of information from its servers. Customers were warned to take the steps necessary to reduce or prevent credit damage or the theft of their identities.

One of the first steps she took was to alert the credit card company and cancel the card. In this customer's case, the card was a bank debit card, and a replacement was ordered.

The site's Webmaster recommended that users closely review their card statements for several months, and be alert for any unauthorized card uses.

With your personal information, identity thieves can open new credit card accounts in your name, request change of mailing addresses on your existing accounts, establish cellular telephone service or open bank accounts in your name -- leaving you responsible for the unpaid bills and bad checks they might leave in their wake.

The Federal Trade Commission has a Web site devoted to identity theft, and it is a good one to keep bookmarked if you have any questions about the issue.

In this victim's case, she contacted the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus and had a "fraud alert" attached to her credit record. The alert means any new credit accounts created based on her information will first require her verification.

The Web site has a host of other suggestions for people who believe their information has been stolen.

Visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ for information on identity theft and how to prevent it happening to you.

NO MONEY DOWN. After years of double-digit growth, the sales of new computers today are sluggish at best. Industry analysts say 2001 will be the first decline in the sales of computers since 1986.

Computer makers are turning to tactics long-used in the automotive world to help drive sales -- including on-the-spot financing.

Top-selling Dell Computer Corp., as well as IBM and Compaq, now offer financing plans designed to spur sales, particularly for business computers. Dell is limiting their program to certain models and adding other restrictions about what businesses can qualify.

Business customers are where the real dollars are for computer companies, so that's where they are pushing the "buy now, pay later" loan programs. While some may include the smallest of small businesses in such programs, don't expect to see it move to consumer sales -- yet.

Due to razor-thin profit margins on many PC models, the loan programs help sell computers without the need for the companies to cut prices.

With the "r" word (recession) being tossed about when speaking of our national economy, the computer companies may have their work cut out for them.

CABLE VS. DSL. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service -- the high-speed, broadband Internet access over plain copper telephone lines -- is foundering when compared to cable Internet access, a new report says.

Nationally, the residential deployment of DSL has fallen short of expectations, a report by the Yankee Group said.

The report predicts that more than half of all U.S. homes will support a broadband connection, either DSL or cable Internet, by year's end.

While cable companies across the country work to add Internet access capability, the deployment of DSL access has slowed in less populated areas.

The cost to install cable Internet access remains fairly high, though self-installs and better technician training is seen as the way to increase efficiency and lower the costs.

Once a cable network is upgraded, every home the cable passes can sign up for Internet access, with no weeks-long wait to see if the line is qualified or service, or determine if the home is within the range of service as with DSL. Some DSL providers require contracts, and offer less bandwidth for the money compared to cable Internet.

Pricing and competition for Internet access make the survival of DSL, cable Internet and dial-up a necessity, the report said. Competition among providers keeps pricing down, and serves as a checks-and-balances way of preventing providers from getting away with major service flaws. If a service makes its customers unhappy, it is important they have a choice of providers.

Nearly 21 million people subscribe to broadband Internet access nationally. That number is predicted to increase to 84 million in the next four years, the report said.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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