Saturday, February 28, 2009

Safer Online Shopping While Avoiding Identity Theft


A Little Diversion is Good For The Soul

Hello online shopping fans! We have something a little different for you today, but as ardent online shoppers, I believe it is something that will interest you and be helpful. We're thinking of making several (shopping-related) diversions like this over the course of this year, so your feedback would be appreciated about that. Good idea? Or do you need to slap us back into place? We'll wait quietly
over here, and hope to hear from you.

The Buzz About Identity Theft

There is a lot of buzz these days about online shopping and social media networking and the risks involved with both for identity theft. Our friends over at recently posted a blog about identity theft and Julio Ricardo Varela, a Facebook friend, posted this story. In addition to these examples, the news about online shopping, identity theft, and social media risks have been plentiful lately, so we won't detail them much further here. The last things we'll offer are Dateline's "To Catch an ID Thief" undercover investigation, which included an online store and some resulting tips on protecting yourself, including this helpful guide. Check it out when you have a chance.

So, What's YOUR Social Security Number?

We've posted before about ways to ensure
safe online shopping (courtesy of Tech Paul), but a newsletter we received recently from LifeLock (we're members), and a link to their blog, jogged me into writing and asking if they would write a post for ShopWorthy readers.

I thought I'd get a response weeks or months later, or never.

Within an hour or so, I got a reply from
Cortney Read, Public Affairs Coordinator for LifeLock, with an enthusiastic "Yes" reply and a friendly, professional message. Within a few days, I received the post below, from Cortney, which is written by Zach Friesen. Hats off to you, LifeLock (and especially Cortney and Zach). I am indeed impressed.

Disclosures, Disclaimers, The Other Side of the Coin

Now, we're not the
Motley Fool, and we do not own shares of LifeLock (and don't even know if they're publicly traded) or get anything in return for mentioning them here, but we should offer a few other "disclosures."

First, we are customers of theirs. About 20 months ago, when we moved to a new city, we opened a new bank account and had to prove that one of our social security numbers was ours, because it had been in use at that bank previously, on a closed account, by someone else. It appeared that it was possibly an honest mistake(?) on the part of the account owner but the fact that it slipped past the bank was astonishing to us. We had been seeing the bold commercials for LifeLock where the CEO,
Todd Davis, posts his social security number in magazines and on the side of a truck. After some research, we became customers to protect ourselves.

It does make getting credit somewhat more challenging, but with some advance planning it's not really a problem. There's a phone call involved between LifeLock and you to ensure it's you applying for credit. Not really a hassle for us, to know that our identity and credit are being protected.

Lastly, I've read that detractors say that placing fraud alerts on your credit bureau as a protective measure can slow down the entire system that is designed to protect those most at risk. Personally, I reconcile this easily, given the amount of identity theft that happens. Of course, given our story, I considered our risk high to begin with. Other detractors take issue with the CEO giving out his social security number, citing it as irresponsible. I can't speak to that, other than to say it was a bold and highly effective marketing campaign, and I have a hard time imagining that others would do it because he did, but you never know.
The FBI sees fit to work with them, and Google's CFO sits on their Board of Directors, so that says a lot, from our perspective.

So with all that said, I would like to turn over the floor to LifeLock and author Zach Friesen.


Advice from the Experts
- Avoid Identity Theft While Shopping Online

Written By Zach Friesen,
Edited by Mike Kunkle,
DreamWorthy Gifts

Online shopping can be a lot of fun and lead to some great savings, but some people shy away for fear of the unknown. We've all heard stories of people who go to buy a gift or a hard-to-find item online and end up with a load of fraud and scams - but what's the truth behind the risks of online shopping? In this day and age, online shopping really is the best way to find just what you need, and despite the rumors, there are a number of ways to ensure a safe and happy experience.

Making a List (of Risks)

First, it's important to recognize just what kinds of identity theft you are at risk for when buying online. In general, identity theft is when someone obtains your personal information to use the credit you already have or to establish new credit. In addition, sometimes thieves attempt to use your information to get at your money instead of your credit. While identity theft has branched out into many different areas, these are the most pertinent to online shopping. (For more info on other types of identity theft, feel free to visit

Checking It Twice (Bills and Credit Reports)

The next step for consumers is to know how to check to learn if they already are a victim and continue this process to spot potential problems early. This is as simple as reviewing a credit report annually and carefully checking all the bills and credit statements you receive monthly. Looking at these documents, make sure there is nothing on them that you don't recognize (for example, a credit card you've never opened with a retailer or bank, or purchases that you did not authorize). If you see anything you are uncomfortable with, or simply want to ensure that you're protected, you can visit
LifeLock's website to learn more about checking your credit report and how experts can help you keep your identity safe.

Find Out Who's Naughty or Nice

Next, you need to be sure you know who you're dealing with, when shopping. There are some relatively easy and simple steps to ensure you're "where you think you are." A good rule to follow is: always find your sites, email addresses, and phone numbers yourself. If someone contacts you in an email or otherwise tells you where to go or what number to call, you should consider it suspect. You have no idea who you're dealing with, unless you verify the information or contact them another way. This is not to say that you cannot ever communicate using these means, just operate responsibly and never offer personal information without doing some of your own research. For example, many identity thieves will fabricate websites and provide links to you, in hopes of convincing you to give up information. Be cautious of this and look up the site yourself, using whatever search engine you prefer. It's also a good idea to check the URL to make sure the title and site match.

Finally, ensuring that you're dealing with secure sites can alleviate the fear of someone intercepting the transaction. While there are multiple ways to verify a secure site, the simplest and fastest is to check the URL again. If the site starts with "http" it is not secure, and "https" is secure.

Gauge Your Comfort - Decide What's Next

Remember, there is much that you can do for yourself to stay safe when shopping online, but there is still a lot that can happen - both on and off the Internet - that is out of your control. For additional help keeping you and your loved ones safe from identity theft, check out You'll find experts that offer not only protection, but also a million-dollar safety net to catch you, just in case the worst should happen.


One last note. LifeLock has their own
blog. Check them out at

And with that said, faithful readers (Hi Mom!), we'll wrap up this
ShopWorthy post for now. Thanks for reading, and as always, happy shopping!

Until next time,

Your friends and Shopping Advisors at
DreamWorthy Gifts

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Online Shopping Trends, Service Rants, Cool Sites and More!

ShopWorthy Water Cooler

How Much Does Social Media Influence Your Buying Decisions?

Hey, I hate to talk out of school about some of the crowd we hang with, but if you listen to all to all the Internet Marketers, social networking for business is akin to the Second Coming.

Here's an article by Sarah Perez on ReadWriteWeb (which is actually a very cool blog and rated "top 20" by Technorati) that talks about the growing link between social media and shopping.

Our question for you, gentle readers, and especially any of you who may be "Gen Y", is this: "What influences your buying decisions?" Here's what Sarah has to say...

Sarah says: "Want To Market To Gen Y? Get on Facebook"

"According to research from shopping comparison site PriceGrabber. Some 85% of Gen Y respondents said they participated in social networking, and 57% reported involvement with blogs. In order to market to Gen Y, web retailers are now starting to use social media to do so. According to an August 2008 survey by Internet Retailer, 39.3% of retail respondents use social networks for marketing purposes, 32% have a page on Facebook, 27% are on MySpace, and 26% are on YouTube."

"...There are now more ways than ever for customers to share their experiences with others online. A 2008 study conducted by the Society for New Communications Research for Nuance Communications found nearly three-quarters choose retailers and products based on others' customer care experiences shared online. In addition to word-of-mouth and other trusted sources like Consumer Reports, respondents found information about others' customer care experiences online in the following ways:" (see graphic)

So, back to our question, shopping lovers, what influences your decision to buy or not buy? Does social media matter? Is it Web 2.0 functionality, like's product ratings?

Which of the things on this list ring your bell? And by that, we mean, what influences your buying decisions?

We would love to hear some feedback about this via a comment or an email to us at Mail @

The train has indeed left the station, but as far as we can tell, it's still moving pretty slowly, perhaps picking up steam gradually (like most "trends"). Here is an article from PRoactive, Sally Falkow's blog on PR trends. It's about Social Media Shopping on FaceBook. Note the date - November 05, 2007, well over a year ago.

In part, Sarah writes: "When Facebook members buy something at a commerce site, they can let those in their Facebook networks know about the purchase, passing along information on the item as well as a discount or coupon. The service will bring a sort of easily tracked viral element to online shopping. Two other people described it as part of a larger plan by Facebook that will allow data about Facebookers' online transactions and interactions to circulate within their social graphs."

Has anyone actually seen someone on Facebook sharing a purchase with their network? How often do you see it happen?

To us, social media is a great branding opportunity, as well as a customer service and customer retention strategy. But on our side of the fence as e-tailers, if you subtract all the hype, I think we're all still figuring out whether it will lead to increased sales or not. Again, we would love to hear some thoughtful arguments about this - especially from any online shoppers. (A notable possible exception may be Twitter - PRoactive's 2/9/09 headline on Twitter challenging Google is an interesting side note, as is the fact that Twitter has raised another $35 million.)

And by the way, follow us on
Twitter at


Well, Here's a Good Slap in the Face for Ya

According to BBB statistics and reported by our friends at the Wall Street Journal, here are the most complained-about industries of 2008. How sad to see "Internet Shopping" at number 4 on the list. Ouch.

1. Cellular phones, service & equipment

2. Auto dealers — new cars
3. Banks

4. Internet shopping!! (Ouch again)
5. Television — cable, CATV & satellite

6. Collection agencies
7. Auto dealers — used cars

8. Furniture — retail
9. Telephone companies
10. Satellite equipment & supplies

11. Internet services
12. Auto repair & service
13. Financial services
14. Computers — dealers
15. Credit cards & plans

This reminds me of a company I once worked for. We surveyed our customers and asked them what they looked for in a sales/service rep who was handling their account. The number one answer? "Someone who returns our phone calls." That always blew my mind. But as I look at this list, and think about my service experiences over the past year, I can tell damning service stories about a cellular phone company, a furniture retailer, an auto dealer, our Internet service, a big-box computer reseller, a bank and a credit card company. And sadly, we do have an online shopping blunder to whine about - caused by the disconnect between the online arm and the brick and mortar arm of an electronics giant. (Left hand, meet right hand.) It worked out, thanks to a good local manager, but it almost created a really sticky Christmas problem.

Service Interruptus

I guess this isn't any major revelation, but this subject always gets me going. What's happened to service?!

We recently learned that a customer's Valentine's order wasn't likely to arrive by Valentine's Day, due to a miscommunication between one of our suppliers and UPS. We felt sick when we saw the update on UPS's site, showing that the package would arrive after the special day. Then, after endless conversations with multiple people at our supplier and at UPS, none of whom really seemed to care, we paid to have UPS reroute the current shipment back to us, and reshipped the order using rush shipping, to get it there on time for certain. In the end, when you do the math, I doubt there was much profit in that order for us, and frankly, I don't care. Disappointing a customer would have been so much worse.

So, dear readers, we'd like to hear about one of two things from you on this:
  • Tell us a horror story about online-shopping-gone-wrong
  • Tell us an online-shopping service-recovery story, where someone went above and beyond to help you or make things right
I sure hope there are more of the latter.

I Can Tell You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Oops, sorry. This story isn't THAT kind of "classified." Apparently, again according to the happy writers at the Tech desk at the WSJ,"Internet auctioneer eBay Inc. is looking to expand its global classified-ad business by taking advantage of an economic slowdown to buy promising private companies with low valuations." Or, eBay plans to buy some online classified ad companies. This is somewhat old news, I suppose, but gears grind slowly so it's still going on.

According to author Scott Morrison, "EBay, based in San Jose, Calif., in 2004 and 2005 spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy about 25% of Craigslist, North America's top online classifieds site, as well Germany's, Marktplaats of the Netherlands and Spain's Loquo. It also launched Kijiji, a classifieds site available in more than 20 countries."

You can check out the article in detail here.

Interesting to read that experts estimate the offline and online classified industry to be worth $100 billion (with a "b"). I guess eBay should be rethinking something, because the long slide (to right) started well before the recent economic pressures started pushing it down.

Compare to Amazon (below) who felt the pain but has bounced back.

Seems like the fixed-price format may be winning out over the auction craze. An eBay story on MarketWatch this week seems to confirm this, with retailers looking to hold onto more of their already slim margins (which both eBay and their partner PayPal, eat into).

Another MarketWatch article from January lays out additional eBay and auction model struggles.

So it seems, shoppers, that you prefer the "deal with the discount" over the "bid for the buck." It will be interesting to see this play out, for sure.

Shameless Self Promotion: Refer-A-Friend & Save from 25-40%!

Okay, we really try hard not to do this on our blog, but we need to break protocol for this one. We've teamed up with to create a cool promotion that we are excited about. Our
DreamWorthy Gifts' Refer-A-Friend & Save program will save shoppers from 25-40% with a “Pay It Forward” referral campaign that creates a Circle of Savings among friends.

See our press release on PRlog at for more details, but here's how it works:
Shoppers can refer friends through a special Refer-A-Friend banner on our home page, and friends will receive a coupon for 25% off. When friends buy, referrers receive a coupon for 40% off their next order. Friends can refer their friends, and the circle of savings continues. There is no limit to the number of friends someone can refer, or the number of 40% off coupons one can collect. It’s the only way to shop!

Okay, propoganda over. It's safe to go back in the water

Savvy Shopper

Budget Well, So You Can Shop More

Hey savvy shoppers, we know that many of you are very budget-conscious, so we thought of you when we ran across these sites. They're not shopping specific, but hey, budgeting is
budgeting. Or is it? You'll need to decide, but here are some sites that can help.

According to the fresh folks over at, they offer easy setup, easy budgeting, and best of all, it’s free. You can find ways to save, reduce your debt, see where you spend, uncover hidden fees, and track your investments. Mint offers 24/7 protection, with an emphasis on safety and security. You can get timely alerts, see helpful graphs, and get mobile access including Mint on your iPhone. has been named the best online personal finance tool by Money Magazine, PC Magazine, and is PC World’s Editor’s Choice. Good for you, Mint.

Read more About Mint and check out the rest of their site, if interested.

In case you've been living in a cave in Barbados since 1984 or on an island with Jack, Kate, Sawyer and John, you'll recognize Quicken as a budgeting resource.
You can read more about Quicken here but they have been around a long time, are also free, and have a lot of cool services as well. They're cool enough to have a Facebook account. You can follow them on Twitter or follow their blog.

says they are "part money management tool, part community." They go on to say, "We believe that one person's good financial decision can be leveraged to an entire community. Experts call this collective intelligence. And we have a whole community of people reaping the rewards of it every day. Find solutions to your money problems… you're not alone in wanting a better financial life."

Wesabe is part financial software, part community. With Wesabe, you can see all your bank accounts and credit cards in one place, categorize your transactions how you want, see spending and earning summaries, discuss things with other interested people, and receive tips for saving money based on your spending. The heavy community focus makes them interesting - check out the FAQ and About pages for more info, and of course, check out their blog.

And Now For Advice From a REEEEAAAAAALLLLY SMART Person

A new Twitter friend, Jim, writes a blog called Bargaineering - Engineering a Richer Life. We're poking fun with the above title, as usual, so we want to be clear that we think Jim really is a sharp young man, we're fans of Jim's blog, and - of course, we particularly love this post - titled: 8 Reasons To Do All Your Shopping Online.

We encourage you to read his full article, but here are the eight reasons:
  • Reason 1: Better Prices
  • Reason 2: Price Matching
  • Reason 3: No Sales Tax Collected
  • Reason 4: It’s In Stock
  • Reason 5: No Driving, Less Gas
  • Reason 6: Historical Order Record
  • Reason 7: Special Offers and Coupons
  • Reason 8: More and Longer Online Sales
We love you, Jim. In the most appropriate, platonic way, of course.

I had an urge to reverse that list, add a drum roll, and do a Letterman-like Top 8 count-down, but I fought it off. I know you are now silently thanking me for my restraint.)

Slick Willy Had Nothing on These Guys is, well, pretty slick. In their own words, "Founded in 1999, is a free, user-driven deal sharing site with a mission to provide consumers an avenue to collaborate and share information in order to make the best shopping decisions. Slickdeals achieves this by providing its users a forum for communication and various shopping tools. prides itself on being user and community focused, never allowing paid placement for frontpage deal listings."

Slickdeals includes everything from tech gadgets to running shoes. On the site, you can see:
  • Frontpage Deals
  • Hot Topics - popular items by ratings
  • Up and Coming Topics - popular items by activity level
  • They also offer a massive number of Coupons that you can use at your favorite stores, Forums for sharing deals, freebies, coupons, contests and more, a Blog at and a Tools section where you can do some deal and shopping research.
  • Keeping up with our need for instant gratification, they offer RSS feeds, deal alerts, and support m-commerce through Slickdeals for mobile phones.
Read more About them and check out their site.

And with that said, we'll wrap up our ShopWorthy post for now. Thanks for reading, and as always, happy shopping!

Until next time,

Your friends and Shopping Advisors at DreamWorthy Gifts