Online Holiday Shopping: 10 Tips to Protect Yourself this Holiday Season

It’s no surprise that online shopping continues to grow in popularity every year. It’s convenient and easy, making it a common way for busy individuals to get their shopping done, especially during the holiday season. Unfortunately, though, cybercriminals are known to take advantage of these online shoppers during the holiday season. If you’re not cautious while online shopping this holiday season, you could end up having to deal with malware, identity theft or other cybercrimes that will be sure to take the holly jolly out of your holiday season.

Fortunately, many cyber-threats are avoidable. When shopping in person, we make it a habit to follow simple measures to protect ourselves and belongings like locking the car, being aware of your surroundings and putting away your cash and cards immediately after a purchase. It’s just as important to implement online security habits as they will protect you, your purchases and your identity when you’re shopping online this holiday season and year-round.

Here are a few online purchasing tips to keep in mind this upcoming holiday season:

1.) Avoid Public Computers and Public Wi-Fi

Public computers and Wi-Fi pose a serious threat to anyone who has access. Hackers can easily gain access to the same unsecured network you’re on and inject your device with malware or steal your information by positioning himself between you and the connection point. Treat all Wi-Fi hotspots and public computers as compromised, even if they appear to be safe. It’s also a good idea to set your devices to “ask” before joining a new wireless network so you don’t unknowingly connect to an insecure or fraudulent network.

2.) Secure Your Computer and Devices

Make sure you’re keeping your operating system, software and/or apps updated on all of your computers and devices. Use up-to-date antivirus and make sure it is receiving updates. You would never forgive yourself if your information was compromised due to you looking over a simple software update.

3.) Implement Strong Password Protection

The use of a strong, unique password is one of the simplest and most essential steps one can take into securing their computer, device or online accounts. When online shopping, many merchants urge you to create an account with them. In some cases, this is necessary, especially if you frequent the site. Make sure you are using unique passwords for each account; having separate passwords for each account helps to veer cybercriminals away. At minimum, have different passwords for your work and personal accounts and make sure that your sensitive accounts have the strongest passwords. Remember to never share your passwords and to use two-factor authentication (2FA) when possible.

4.) Know Your Online Merchants

Limit your online shopping to companies you know and trust. If a merchant seems questionable, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Confirm the seller’s physical address, contact information and return policy before adding anything to your cart. It’s never a bad idea to look up reviews on review sites like Trust Pilot or Google My Business to verify that the merchant and products are legit. Make sure you are always directly typing in a trusted URL into the address bar instead of clicking a link from an email or other suspicious communication.

5.) Beware of Seasonal Scams

If it looks too good to be true, it most likely is! Don’t be fooled by the lure of great discounts by less-than-reputable websites or fake companies. Cybercriminals are also using fake package tracking emails, fake e-cards, fake charity donation scams and emails asking to confirm purchasing details. Use known and trusted URLs instead of clicking directly on links.

6.) Pay Online with One Credit Card

A safer way to shop on the Internet is to pay with a credit card rather than a debit card. Debit cards do not have the same consumer protections as credit cards. Credit cards are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and may limit your liability if your information was used improperly. By using one credit card, with a lower balance, for all of your online shopping you also limit the potential for financial fraud to affect all of your accounts. Always check your statements regularly and carefully, though.

7.) Look for “https” in the URL

The “s” in “https” stands for “secure” and specifies that the communication with the website is encrypted. This means that the information you give to the site is transmitted safely to the merchant without a cybercriminal’s interference.

8.) Avoid Pop-ups

Do not respond to pop-ups, no matter how good the offer might seem. Just close them; don’t click on the window, or call the phone numbers. Similarly, don’t respond to pop-ups saying you need to buy antivirus software or software to “clean your infected computer.” These are all scams!

9.) Don’t Auto-save Your Personal Information

When purchasing online, you will likely be given the option to save the information you’ve inputted (like your shipping address, personal information and card details) to the website for future “faster checkouts.” Consider if the convenience is worth the risk. The inconvenience of having to reenter your information is insignificant compared to the amount of time and effort you would spend trying to repair the loss of your stolen information.

10.) Review Privacy Policies

Review the privacy policy for the website/merchant you are visiting. Know what information the merchant is collecting about you, how it will be stored, how it will be used, and if it will be shared with others

Follow these tips to help minimize your risk of falling victim to a cyber-attack this holiday season. Remember to keep your devices updated, avoid unsecured networks, don’t auto-save your information and watch out for sketchy emails, links, URLs and pop-ups. Use your common sense and stay safe! Happy holidays and happy shopping!

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