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Identity Theft, Password Habits, and e-Shopping Safety

PayPal's chief security expert Michael Barrett talks about prevention


Most eBayers are aware of the risks that online shoppers of all stripes face. For eBay users, after all, vigilance and conscientiousness are par for the course, given that eBay sellers are independent agents, responsible for their own customer service and sales practices. Experienced eBay shoppers know this and have made eBay's feedback system one of the most highly regarded online shopping safety features on the Internet.

That's not to say, however, that eBay shopping can be made absolutely risk-free. In fact, eBay has seen and in some cases been affected by many of the most troublesome forms of online crime, including things like account takeovers, product scams and too-good-to-be-true deals, and email spoofing and phishing.

PayPal Studies Identity Theft and Password Safety

This last category of online activity is particularly frustrating for eBay and for eBay users alike because it can lead uncareful eBayers to stumble into serious problems like identity theft—something that can take years to resolve, generating bad press for eBay and PayPal in the meantime. It's no surprise, therefore, that eBay and PayPal are serious about investigating this particular online shopping risk and the sorts of things that users can to do minimize it.

To that end, PayPal has released a new study about online identity theft that finds, amongst other things, that:

  • Online shoppers in English-speaking countries are the most frequent victims of identity theft by a wide margin

  • Attitudes and habits surrounding password use and selection affect consumers' risk of identity theft

  • Many consumers regularly use inadequate passwords that may be easily guessed by identity thieves

  • Some consumers may even inadvertently reveal their passwords to the public through social networking sites or other forms of daily Internet use

Such findings may surprise longtime or veteran eBayers that almost automatically exercise caution and care in protecting their personal data. The findings clearly suggest, however, that increased awareness about identity theft and its causal factors is still needed—and that such awareness could someday contribute to a significant reduction in identity theft occurrences.

Talking with Michael Barrett

Because this new PayPal study is so suggestive, I was only too happy to have the opportunity to discuss its findings in broad strokes with Michael Barrett, currently PayPal's chief information security officer and former vice president for security at American Express. Mr. Barrett had a number of useful insights and tips to offer to eBay and PayPal customers and to online shoppers in general.

Read on to find out what he had to say about the risks that e-shoppers face this holiday season, as well as the steps can be taken to reduce them.

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