With the holiday season nearly upon us, it’s time to give some thought to how best to protect yourself when shopping online. At the same time last year, we pointed out that as the amount spent in online purchases was expected to increase, so does the occurrence of online fraud. This year will be no different. It has unfortunately been a banner year for data breaches that have resulted in more cases of identity theft and fraud, and recent research suggests that we should expect even more cyber attacks and breaches in the upcoming holiday shopping season.
What measures can you take to avoid becoming a victim? Here are some simple and practical tips that can help.
Track your credit card and banking transactions
Regularly check your credit card and bank account activity, either online or by phone, at least once a week during the holidays. Look for anything that you don’t recognize or that looks unusual or suspicious and report those transactions to your credit card provider or financial institution as soon as possible.
Shop online only at secure websites
Make sure that any online store that you shop at either has https at the beginning of the web address or has closed padlock symbol similar to the one below.
A web page secured using https is encrypted so that information sent from it can’t be easily read by an outside party. If you are entering personal information on a web page that isn’t using https, you run the risk of having your information intercepted and used by fraudsters.
Protect your passwords
Did you know that “password” and “123456” are the two most commonly used password in the world? Easy-to-guess passwords using dictionary words or personal information that can be easily found in your social media profiles should be avoided at all costs. Choose a strong password consisting of a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters (e.g., #, !, @) with a minimum length of 10 characters.
Avoid the temptation to use the same password for all of your accounts. This is extremely dangerous because once a hacker has cracked your password on one site, it’s a simple matter for them to find your other accounts and break into those as well. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, you can use a password manager to securely store them and pull them up when needed.
Change your passwords on a regular basis, at least once every 60 to 90 days. The Government of British Columbia has provided an excellent resource on creating secure passwords and why it pays to create longer ones.
Use separate email accounts
Most of us who have a work email address also have a separate email address for personal use to keep in touch with friends and family. If you take this concept one step further, consider using yet another separate email address for recreational purposes like websites and online shopping. By keeping things separate, you can reduce the risk of having all of your personal information compromised if one of your accounts is hacked. Of course, remember to use unique and strong passwords for each account, otherwise all of this effort could be wasted.
Use multiple methods of payment
If at all possible, use different methods of payment for different online shopping sites. For example, if you use PayPal linked to a credit card to pay at one site, use a different credit card at another one. Similar to the principle behind using different email accounts, this can reduce the amount of damage caused to your finances if a data breach occurs at one of the online retailers that you’ve shopped at.
Alternatively, some people choose to use a separate, low-balance credit card exclusively for online transactions. That way, there is less potential damage that could occur, since a fraudster will quickly run out of funds for his illegal shopping spree.
Beware of scams
There are many online scams out there. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a comprehensive list of different types of scams and how to recognize them. The basic rule of thumb to remember is if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t make yourself easy prey for scammers.
Use a secure network connection
If you are at home using a Wi-Fi network, make sure that you have secured it using a password. Otherwise, anyone nearby could easily access your network and steal your personal information. Also, never use a public Wi-Fi network for checking your email or for secure financial transactions such as personal banking or online shopping, as the connection may not be safe.
Use current anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date
Did you know that there are 200,000 new PC malware threats detected daily? When shopping from home using your computer, always ensure that you are running anti-virus software that is current and using up-to-date virus definitions to detect the latest threats. You can usually set your software to automatically update itself so that you don’t have to worry about forgetting to check for updates. Having this protection in place can protect you from viruses and spyware that cybercriminals use to steal your personal information from your computer.
Lock your mobile devices
Although it may seem annoying, it is essential to lock your smartphones and tablets with a security code. This will prevent anyone who finds or steals your mobile device from accessing your personal information. Your smartphone or tablet contains a wealth of data about you, so if they fall into the wrong hands without adequate security measures in place, it could be like handing over your identity to thieves to use as they please.
Consider installing apps that allow you to track, lock, and erase data from stolen or missing devices. This could save you a lot grief down the road and provide you with peace of mind knowing that you can still protect your identity.
Avoid saving personal information online
Did you know that Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are the top targets of malicious cyber criminals? Many online merchants ask you to store your personal information, such as mailing address and credit card information, for the sake of convenience. Given the number of data breaches that occurred this past year at major retailers, it’s best to avoid storing any information that could be stolen. Of course, it can be a nuisance to have to re-enter your information each time you make an online purchase, but it’s a small price to pay to prevent becoming a victim of identity fraud.
Shopping online can be fun and convenient. At the same time, it can also be risky and dangerous if you aren’t aware of the potential hazards. While it’s impossible to prevent all forms of online identity theft and fraud, protecting yourself from some of the most common threats can help keep you safe as you hunt down those amazing deals this holiday season.
We hope you found these online shopping tips helpful. Be sure to share these tips with others and spread the word about online holiday shopping security.