- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Millions of Americans will spend billions of dollars online in the coming weeks, and although they have concerns about the safety of Internet-based transactions, they are taking steps to ensure secure online shopping, according to a new survey of Web consumers.

More than 60 percent of consumers said Internet security threats would affect their online holiday shopping and 24 percent said they would not shop online this year, according to a survey released yesterday by the Business Software Alliance, a Washington group that represents the commercial software industry.

The survey of 1,099 U.S. consumers also found that 84 percent of respondents think that some Internet retailers have not done enough to protect their customers and 76 percent would like to be better educated on how to protect themselves. The survey was commissioned by the business group and conducted in late October and early November by Forrester Custom Consumer Research.

“Consumers are looking to [online] vendors to increase their comfort level … and consumers are willing to do more themselves,” said Neil MacBride, vice president of legal affairs at the Business Software Alliance.

“Even with people’s concerns about cybersecurity, they continue to go to the Web for a high volume of e-commerce,” he said. “The most important protection is their own awareness of their cybersurroundings.”

Eighty-one percent of survey respondents used anti-virus software on their computers to better protect themselves and 67 percent also have installed anti-spyware programs.

Mr. MacBride said this is the first year the group has focused its survey on online holiday shopping.

The Federal Trade Commission, National Consumers League, National Cyber Security Alliance, Business Software Alliance and several other organizations host Web sites offering tips to ensure safe online shopping experiences.

The Business Software Alliance’s survey also found that consumers were most concerned about protecting personal information from being sold to a third party, mentioned by 79 percent of respondents, while 74 percent worried about identity theft.

A separate survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted earlier this month by Harris Interactive for Sun Microsystems Inc. found that 83 percent of respondents thought people were more susceptible to identity theft around the holiday season than the rest of the year.

In addition to computer security tools, consumers can help ensure secure online sales in three steps, said Susan Grant, vice president of public policy at the National Consumers League, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington.

• Know the vendors they are dealing with and research unknown vendors.

• Pay by credit card — usually the safest way — as opposed to sending a check or providing bank account numbers.

• Keep all transaction documentation, including e-mail, phone call records and receipts, to serve as a paper trail in case of a dispute.

Steve Salter, vice president of BBBOnLine at the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., said consumers should avoid deeply discounted offers from unknown vendors, such as software on sale for 10 percent of its normal price. Deals that are “too good to be true” usually are, he said.

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