Owens class compiles report on risks of online shoppingWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Many consumers are using the convenience of online shopping every day, but there are numerous risks of fraud and scams, according to the “Online Shopping Report” compiled by the fall 2007 forensic accounting class at Owens Community College.
The report addressed questions about how convenient, economical or safe online shopping is.
Safety was the most popular concern of consumers, according to statistics gathered by six students in the class from 200 online transactions using credit or debit cards.
People shopping online run the risk of their personal information being leaked or stolen, which could lead to identity theft. Other risks include not receiving the item purchased in a timely and acceptable manner, not receiving the correct item or not receiving the product at all.
“It’s a good public guide for people to understand the dangers of online shopping with preventive measures and possible solutions for people to use,” said David Shaffer, a student in the class who worked on the project.
“It shows some examples of what to look for in e-mails or letters to protect against fraud,” said Shaffer, an accounting major who plans to graduate in spring.
Shaffer also thought Web assurance seals and certifications of Web sites for security purposes were valuable for consumers. The report shows the actual symbols for the three types of knowledge, organizational and technology/product-based certifications.
Web assurance seals rate the trustworthiness of e-stores. Their services are categorized in three groups representing security, privacy and business integrity of an e-store.
One of the biggest things a consumer needs to know is with whom and for what they are making the transaction. Most businesses that offer online purchasing include terms and conditions, which consumers should read and understand before purchasing an item.
When shopping online, it is recommended that consumers pay by credit card. The Fair Billing Credit Act protects consumers when they purchase items with credit cards and allows companies to be investigated if unauthorized charges are reported.
“When paying online by credit card, make sure you check the company’s security policy. This will ensure the safety of the financial and personal information they are presenting,” the report stated.
Credit card information can be stolen online even if the consumer is not providing it on a Web site or sending it in an e-mail. The information is included in cookies, which are data packets stored on computers and transferred to Web sites.
These cookies can be stolen in a number of ways when being sent back and forth between servers. One method is called session hijacking where a third party intercepts the cookies using packet sniffers to read the information contained in them.
Computer anti-virus software is available with a firewall that helps prevent hackers from stealing financial and credit information. It also prevents viruses from contaminating computers.
The “Online Shopping Report” also includes numerous examples and scenarios of online frauds, pitfalls and actual scams to help educate consumers on what to look for when shopping online.
“This report is very comprehensive and I found it a good summary of most of the major scams we see at the Better Business Bureau (BBB),” said Dick Eppstein, president of the Toledo BBB.
The report mentions Social Security scams with e-mails that appear to be from the Social Security Administration. Scammers are increasingly using bogus logos and claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission, Postal Inspection Service and the BBB, said Eppstein, who recently received two calls on the matter.
Eppstein also warned that area code scams may be starting back up after a long dead period. People will receive mail or e-mail saying they have won something and directing them to call a number that appears to be an 800 number, but is similar to a 900 number that accumulates phone bill charges.
Other area codes used by scammers include 809 and 829 in the Dominican Republic, 242 in the Bahamas, 441 in Bermuda, 345 in the Cayman Islands and a number of others located mostly in the Caribbean. A complete list can be obtained from the Toledo BBB at www.toledobbb.org.
The “Online Shopping Report” is the third project compiled by forensic accounting classes at Owens. The other two included a credit card fraud survey and identity theft risk questionnaire.
The ideas for the projects are developed by the individual classes with a goal to benefit people, said Ronald Coon, the class’s instructor.
“Each class project becomes a community service. The students really put their hearts and minds into these projects,” said Coon, who has taught accounting at Owens for 20 years.
Coon is a self-employed forensic accountant and resident certified public accountant (CPA) at Broadway Tax Service in Toledo.
The Forensic Examiner, a trade publication for the forensic accounting business, requested copies of all three reports and is considering them for publication. The reports could be published with credits to the students and instructor, Coon said.
All three reports are available to the public online at www.owens.edu/security/onlineshoppingfinal.pdf.