Protecting Your Information Online During the Holidays

Happy Holidays. Happy shopping days. Or… happy spending-every-dime-of-your-savings days. However you want to look at it, the season is here. The good news is that we live in an age where you can sit at your computer after the kids go to bed and do all of the Santa shopping. You can find the best possible price on that gift your mother-in-law has been dying to have without going to 10 different stores to shop the price.

It is easy to get sucked in, email after email shows up in your inbox with extreme savings, two-for-one’s, and free shipping. All those bright colors and tempting offers are just too good to pass up sometimes, and an estimated 45% of US consumers will buy their Christmas gifts online this year (including an expected $2.6 billion on Cyber Monday alone).

Sadly, doing your important time-saving and cost-saving online shopping can lead to higher risks of cybercriminals stealing your personal payment information. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the two biggest shopping days of the holiday season, the entire month of December is a cybercriminal’s playground.

These scammers and thieves are working to exploit the increased volumes of transactions and internet traffic, which provide perfect opportunities for hackers to go unnoticed. Don’t let these thieving scrooges ruin your holidays. Instead, let us give you a gift… for free. Here are seven tips that will help keep you safe online this season.

  1. Confirm the website you are purchasing from has an “https” at the beginning. The “s” stands for “secure.” Also check for a padlock icon in the browser bar.
  2. Pay by credit card, not debit card. Credit cards are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and may limit your liability on purchases you didn’t actually make. Debit cards do not have these same protections. Always check both statements regularly.
  3. If you’re unsure of the authenticity of a retailer, do some research. It is always wise to read reviews about any websites you’ve never used before. Google even provides a shopping section that lets users rate retailers. This could be a good place to start.
  4. Keep the operating system and application software updated/patched on all of your computers and mobile devices. Be sure that your anti-virus/anti-spyware is running and receiving automatic updates and confirm that your firewall is enabled.
  5. Use strong passwords. As annoying as it is to have a long/confusing/million passwords, it is important to create a password that is more than ten characters, with a number and a special character, as well as upper and lower case letters.
  6. Avoid Sharing Computers. It is extremely important to avoid using a shared or public computer to shop online. An unknown computer may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you enter it for payment. Criminals may also be intercepting traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other confidential information. If it is impossible to avoid this golden rule, make sure you log-out after shopping. Or even better, use the browser’s “Privacy Mode” to reduce the amount of data the computer accidentally stores. Also be sure to delete your browsing history and cookies when you’re done.
  7. Be aware of scams/use common sense. The saying may be cheesy, but it applies: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” If you see an offer from an unknown website that you cannot authenticate and it is at an amazingly low price, it is probably better to pass. You will be thankful in the long run.

If your Christmas shopping is not limited to online retailers, you might still be nervous to swipe that card at a brick and mortar store based on the recent, major data breaches. After all, more than 375 million data records have been confirmed stolen or lost worldwide in the first half of 2014, up 22 percent during the same time last year

There is a bit of good news on that front, though. You won’t be the only one watching out for your safety this holiday season. Retailers, corporations and retail advocacy organizations are taking these major hits as a wake-up call and taking the advice and reminders from the federal government. They are implementing standards, best practices and additional techniques similar to those used by financial institutions to protect your information.

Unfortunately, many consumers aren’t careful or cognizant about their online (or offline) safety until they have been hacked and that cyber-criminal has put a halt to the reindeer landing on their roofs. Don’t be one of these consumers. Protect yourself with the above tips throughout the holidays and put a stop to the availability of your credit card number.

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