Tips for Safe Online Shopping This Holiday Season

Before you click 'Buy Now' review these cyber shopping security tips

Before you click ‘Buy Now’ review these cyber shopping security tips.

Holiday shopping used to mean a trip to the mall, but more and more Americans are taking advantage of the convenience, wider selection and better prices on the Internet. A National Retail Federation survey found that more people shopped online than in stores during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, a sign of how radically American have changed their shopping habits.

Unfortunately, along with the rapid increase in online shopping, comes an increase in fraud, phishing and cyber-crime. In order to minimize your risk of becoming a victim, it’s important to stay on top of the latest cyber-scams. Here are some tips that will help you protect your money, your personal information — and your holiday spirit:

Do Not Use Open Wi-Fi

People may want to log on to their Best Buy or Amazon accounts to check prices, but open Wi-Fi is probably the least secure place to do that,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. While we all enjoy the convenience of using free Wi-Fi when we are out and about, it does present some risks when it comes to protecting your personal information. Many hotspots are not secure and thus provide cyber criminals with direct access to your information. The best way to protect yourself is to use the data provided by your own network provider, especially when making purchases and NEVER use open Wi-Fi to check bank accounts.

Make Sure The Website Is Secure Locked

Check the web page’s URL (web page address). Most of the time when browsing the web, URLs will begin with the letters “http.” A secure site should begin with the letters “https.” The “s” at the end stands for secure and means that the site utilizes SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to protect your information. If the site you are using does not have the padlock or “https” you may want to reconsider providing any type of personal or private information.

Use Credit Cards Instead Of Debit Cards

Another way to protect yourself when shopping online is to use a credit card rather than your debit card. With a credit card. you are liable only for fraudulent charges up to $50 and are not liable for debts after reporting a card lost or stolen. With a credit card, the money is first charged to the bank or lending institution, after which you will receive a bill. With a debit card, the money is taken directly from your bank account, making the process of getting fraudulent charges resolved a bit more difficult. Many companies also offer PayPal, a secure online payment option offering similar services to that of a credit card.

Be Careful of Purchasing Scanned Gift Cards

Scanning gift cards is a popular and easy method that thieves use to steal your money. Basically a crook will go into a store and grab a pile of unpurchased gift cards from the display rack, scan or record the numbers on the back, then return the cards back to the same spot. As soon as the gift card is purchased by a customer, the thief will quickly spend the value of the card online using the recorded number. To reduce your risk of purchasing one of these compromised cards, try selecting a card toward the back of the pile or ask the merchant for a gift card that is not on display, often they will have extras in stock.

Beware Of Phishing Emails

Phishing is a method cybercriminals use to install malicious software on your computer or to steal your personal information. Phishing increases during the holiday season and phishing emails generally offer great deals or requests for charitable donations. Some emails will look like they come from popular online shopping sites as well as shipping companies such as Fed/Ex or UPS. The best way to protect yourself is to be on alert for emails about problems with your credit card accounts, online orders, or emails that urge you to act quickly by clicking on links or opening attachments. These links can bring you to a fake website designed to look very similar to that of the actual company’s. This is where the cyber theives can steal your information or install malware. If you think that the email may not be authentic, access the company’s website directly by using your browser, don’t click on any links.

Stick with Trusted Companies

One of the best and easiest ways to protect yourself is to stick with familiar companies and popular brands that you know and trust. If you are unsure, take the time to do a bit of research before making purchases. A great place to begin research and to read previous customer comments and reviews, is the Better Business Bureau’s website at bbb.org.

As always it’s important to stay up to date when it comes to protecting yourself. Information and technology is constantly changing and so are the ways that criminals use it to their advantage. For additional information and safety tips check out The National Cyber Security Alliances 2015 Cybersmart Holiday Shopping Toolkit at staysafeonline.org.

By Kristen Levy

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