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Protecting Your Privacy on eBay

The Internet has a long reach. Don't be surprised if you furnish your personal information freely on one website, and it turns up somewhere else. If you don't mind people knowing things about you (your name, your hobbies, where you live, and your phone number, for example), by all means share. Otherwise, you should give only as much information as you need to do business on the site.

Privacy is not secrecy. Don't feel obligated to reveal anything about yourself that isn't absolutely necessary. (Some personal facts are in the same league as body weight — private, even if hardly a secret.)

Although you can't prevent privacy leaks entirely, you can take some precautions to protect yourself. Here are some tips to keep your online information as safe and secure as possible:

  • User ID: When eBay first started, members used their e-mail addresses to buy and sell. Today, users appear on the site with a nom de plume (okay, User ID, but nom de plume sounds oh, so chic). Your first line of defense against everyone who surfs the eBay site is to choose a User ID that doesn't reveal too much about you — unless you want to promote an existing business.

  • Password: Guard your password as if it were the key to your home. Don't give any buyers or sellers your password. If a window requesting your password pops up in an auction, skip it — it's somebody who is up to no good. Use your password only on official eBay screens.

    If you're concerned that someone may have your password, change it immediately:

    1. Go to your My eBay area and hover your cursor over the Account tab. From the drop-down menu, click Personal Information.

    2. On your arrival in the Personal Information area, find the Password line and click the Edit link.

    3. Follow the instructions to change your password.

      Your password is immediately changed.

    If some dastardly evildoer has changed your password, and you can't sign in to your account, go to the eBay home page. Click the Customer Support link at the top of the page. Then you can choose the Contact eBay tab on the resulting page. You'll be in touch with a live human being who can help you secure your account before damage can be done.

  • Credit card information: Whenever you use your credit card on eBay, you can make sure that your private information is safe. Look for an SSL (SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer) link or check box. SSL is an encryption program that scrambles the information so that hackers have almost no chance of getting your information.

    When buying from a listing that accepts credit cards, check the seller's feedback and carefully weigh the risks of giving your credit card number to someone you don't know versus paying through PayPal. PayPal is the safest way to pay because your credit card number is not released.

    Never give anyone your Social Security number online. Guard yours as if it were the key to the Crown Jewels.

  • Registration information: When you first register, eBay requests a phone number and address for billing and contact purposes. However, many people want an added measure of anonymity. You can give eBay the information it wants in several ways without compromising your privacy:

    • Rather than your home phone number, provide eBay with a cellphone number, a work phone number, Google Voice, or a SkypeIn number. Screen your calls with an answering machine.

    • Use a post office box rather than your home address.

    • Start a bank account solely for eBay transactions. Make it a DBA (doing business as) account so you can use an alternate name. Your bank can help you with this process.

    Never say anything online that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying to the next person who passed you on the street. Basically, that's who you're talking to. You can find stories of romances blossoming in the eBay community, but come on, that doesn't mean that you should lose your head. Don't give out any personal information to strangers; too often that's asking for trouble. Have fun on eBay but hang on to your commonsense.

  • Check feedback: eBay works because its participants police it. The best way to find out about the folks whom you're dealing with is to see how others felt about them. Check feedback before you bid or buy!

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