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Published November 18. 2013 07:25PM

Online shopping has grown increasingly popular in recent years, a trend is expected to continue as we enter this holiday season, but the boom has also created the nation's fastest growing crime - identity theft.

MarketLive, an e-commerce software and solutions provider, estimates there will be a 17 percent increase over the $47 billion spent last year by online shoppers in the U.S. That volume of activity led the governor's office to create a Cyber Security Information web site designed to raise awareness and help Pennsylvanians prevent, detect and respond to identity theft.

It includes information on how identity theft occurs, prevention tips, what to do if you're a victim, and information for law enforcement agencies that investigate these crimes. Clicking on the "If You're A Victim" window will help you contact authorities and prevent further damage. There's also a link to Cyber Security for Kids.

With the rollout of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, identity theft and fraud have been a hot topic of debate on the national level. Last week, Roberta Stempfley, acting assistant secretary of homeland security's Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, made the first public acknowledgment by an administration official that there have been any cyberattacks on the Obamacare website. She reported there have been approximately 16 cyberattacks on the website and one "denial of service" attack that was unsuccessful.

Rep. Mike McCaul McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, said in his opening statement that all the information is a tempting target for hackers, identity thieves and other malicious actors.

"We already have reported cases of hacks, fraudulent websites and documented security vulnerabilities in the system," he stated.

Over the last fiscal year, Stempfley testified that the department had recorded approximately 228,700 cyber incidents, an average of more than 620 per day, involving federal agencies, critical infrastructure, and the department's industry partners.

Jo Anne Peters, press secretary to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, tried to ease fears that the government web site was vulnerable to cyber attacks, stating that consumers "can trust that the information they're providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure."

Even if you won't be accessing the government web site for health insurance, there are some practical tips for the online consumer. Officials warn to secure your mobile device and computer; know and trust your online shopping merchants; look for "https" when making an online purchase; password protect your mobile device and computer; do not respond to pop-ups; do not use public computers or public wireless for your online shopping; pay by credit card, not debit card; and print your online transactions.

Becoming a victim of cyber theft is a stressful ordeal. Being educated and prepared for that kind of crisis, thanks to the governor's Cyber Security Information web site, is a good first line of defense.

By Jim Zbick

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