Practice Safe Online Shopping this Holiday Season

December 1, 2015
Practice Safe Online Shopping

With Thanksgiving deals, Black Friday and Cyber Monday kicking off the holiday shopping season, it's not just prime time for using your credit card to spend money, it's also prime time for hackers to steal credit card data. Nobody wants the gift of identity theft this holiday season (or ever), so it's good to make sure you follow some simple tips to protect your credit cards when you're shopping online.

First, make sure you're using a safe Internet connection. With mobile phones and tablets, it's easy to be online wherever there's a Wi-Fi connection. However, if you're using a free Wi-Fi hotspot to get online with your tablet, be it at a library or café or other public place, that connection isn't secure, and it can be easy for someone else to access your device--and the information stored on it. The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) recommends avoiding public hotspots to online shopping or check bank or card accounts. Also make sure your device's security settings restrict who can access your phone.

Next, know your website. This is the time of year where people start shopping at websites that are new to them, especially if they're looking for one-of-a-kind gifts. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) recommends sticking to websites you know and trust. If you're unfamiliar with a website, do a little research to make sure it's legitimate. If the website also has a physical location, you can make sure it exists. You can also check to see if they have a phone number to take questions and answer problems. The NCSA also recommends checking reviews of unfamiliar websites to see other people's experiences with them.

Although many online merchants want you to create an account with them in order to make future purchases easier, you don't have to store your information on their site in order to make a purchase. The CIS notes that having information stored with an e-tailer may be convenient, but if that merchant's website is hacked and your identity is stolen, that's even more of a hassle.

You also don't necessarily need to give retailers all of the information they ask for. Many retailers try to collect as much information about you as possible, but you only really need to give them the information they need to make the transaction. Letting them have more information also gives thieves more information about you if that retailer's website is hacked.

Once you've got your online shopping cart full and are ready to check out, be sure that the webpage is encrypted. You can do this by checking the URL and making sure that it starts with "https" and not just "http." The CIS says that "s" means the website is secure and will encrypt the transaction. This will protect your personal information as it travels through cyberspace for the payment.

When you're paying, the CIS says that you're better off paying with a credit card rather than a debit card because credit cards have certain protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act. If a hacker gets your debit card number, they can quickly drain your bank account. Credit cards have different protections, including The federal government has a law stipulating that the maximum amount you have to pay if your card's used without your permission is $50, and if you report that your card is missing before it gets used, you aren't responsible for any unauthorized charges.

Finally, be careful with e-mail and pop-up windows. The NCSA notes that cybercriminals often try to lure people to give up their personal information through e-mail spams. Don't click on links in e-mail to give any account information; go to the website directly instead. Be wary of opening any attachments unless they come from individuals you know. If a pop-up window offers cash or gift cards in return for answering a survey, ignore it. Criminals use e-mail, attachments and pop-ups to steal people's information, whether it's by fooling you to give it up or by putting malware on your computer to steal it directly.

While it's a frenzied time of shopping this month, being more aware of cybercriminals techniques and knowing how to avoid their traps can help make the holidays happy and not harried.

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