Shopping Online May Be the Safest Option

Hackers can steal personal information even from outside store walls.

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Add this to your list of reasons to shop online this season: It might be safer. Last Sunday, 60 Minutes reported that bricks-and-mortar retailers often transmit credit card information through wireless routers, which cybercriminals can access even from outside the store walls.

While sitting in a parking lot outside of Best Buy, Staples, and Home Depot stores, CBS's Lesley Stahl found that the wireless signals for the stores popped up on a regular computer using free software.

Once the wireless signals are identified, hackers can attempt to break into them and steal information. That's what happened to TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, earlier this year. According to CBS, almost 100 million credit card numbers were stolen from the company's more than 2,400 stores in the United States, Canada, and England.

After criminals steal the information, they often sell it online. Stahl watched as an undercover agent bought the personal information of four people for $25. He received an E-mail with Social Security numbers, addresses, and credit card numbers.

Online retailers, on the other hand, tend to have more sophisticated security methods, and shoppers themselves can take rigorous measures. They can rely on electronic safety nets provided by credit card companies, such as providing unique credit card numbers for each online retailer and free protection from Internet fraud. Now it's time for the bricks-and-mortar stores to play catch-up.