Safe Surfing

Free! Complimentary! No Charge! Sometimes these statements seem too good to be true and, unfortunately, at times they are.

With the current state of the economy being less than subpar, everyone is looking for some sort of handout or killer deal. However, it is in these times that the online consumer should be most wary. Knowing that people are extra desperate to catch a break in their expenses, con men and scam artists set up misleading, eye-catching traps online in order to steal people's identities, hi-jack vital credit card information or spread malicious viruses.

Luckily, you don't have to be a victim. There are things you can and should look for to determine if a particular ad or site is reputable and legitimate. Below are three things to consider when assessing an offer's validity.

Social Security Number Required?

If an ad takes you to a site that requires you to provide your social security number in return for an exclusive offer DO NOT give it to them. It might seem obvious but thousands of people do this every day, making them a definite target for identity theft. The same goes for credit card information. Unless you are purchasing something, there is no need for an individual to supply their credit or debit card information. However, if you are making a purchase and must provide your billing information, first check that the page is "locked" or "secured." Which brings us to the next safe-surfing indicator.

Secure Browsing

There's a very easy way to know if the page you are visiting employs secure browsing practices, technically called secure sockets layer(SSL) encryption. If the URL of the page you are accessing starts with "https:", you know you are dealing with a safe entity and your information will be protected. It is when the "s" is omitted and it begins with "http:" that you should be alarmed and not disclose any sensitive data.

Well-Known Organization

Another way to ensure you are not being scammed is to simply check the name of the organization with which you are dealing. Typically, the bigger, more established a brand or company is, the less likely you will be faced with illegitimate claims and promises as the degree of accountability is much higher. A household name is usually held to a higher standard than lesser-known organizations and would therefore not want to risk their credibility to make a quick buck. It's comparable to working for a prominent company or attending a distinguished college or university versus a no-name start-up. When people recognize the name or are familiar with an organization's history and mission there is an unspoken level of comfort.

E-Commerce is Here to Stay

According to the 2010 Census, Americans spent US$169 billion on online purchases during that year—proving that this is a growing trend with no signs of slowing. With more and more information being swapped in cyberspace, it's best to take the time to ensure you are doing it right.

It may take some practice and self-restraint, but stop and think before you click "submit."

Safe Surfing is a guest post by Alvina Lopez:

Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie, who blogs about accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: alvina.lopez @gmail.com.