Wherever you go online—they know.
You’re being tracked online. The sites you visit, the products you purchase and even the location of your computer. It is often a harmless way for marketers to learn what products you like so they can better target their messaging. But sometimes it can pose a risk of identity theft.
Even if you’re not snacking, you’re leaving cookies all over.
Advertisers want to know who you are and what you do. They do this using an Internet or Browser “cookie.” When you visit a website, you get a cookie—and it isn’t chocolate chip. An Internet cookie is a unique ID that is part of your browser history. It stays with you as you jump from page to page within a site, and from site to site across the Internet. Over time, these cookies create a data cache that’s extremely valuable to advertisers who are trying to learn your interests and habits.
So if you’re online searching for information and great deals on winter clothing, advertisers will see a pattern in your cookie history and develop a profile. If they determine you’re a good prospect, you’ll suddenly see banner after banner trying to sell you everything from wool coats to a vacation in Maui.
Some view this as an invasion of privacy. Others see it as a great way get advertising that’s relevant to their interests. But hackers see cookies as a way to piece together profiles for their attacks.
You’re hunting for a great deal and being hunted at the same time.
Identity criminals use your cache of cookies to show them where to set their traps. Then they’ll create sites that look a lot like the legitimate sites you frequent, with the sole purpose of asking you for personal information and stealing all they can—from your name to your Social Security number.
Protect yourself against identity thieves.
So what are your options? Deleting Internet cookies is a simple first step. Most online browsers have the ability to clear the cookie cache and browsing history. The challenge is remembering to do it on a regular basis. And websites where you have a personal account will reload your unique cookie every time you visit.
Another option is to opt out of advertising. While all organizations give you the choice to opt out of their email advertising, not all let you opt out of their cookie tracking. Online businesses and advertising organizations are now using sites such as www.aboutads.info to give you the choice of opting out of cookie tracking.
Cookies can be effective for advertisers and convenient for customers. If you don’t mind being targeted with messaging about the things you show interest in, at least be wary of emails or websites that appear to come from legitimate sources but request personal information.
† Federal Trade Commission. “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book For
January – December 2011.” February 2012.
† Javelin Strategy & Research. "2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming
the New Fraud Frontier." February 2012.