Tis the season of online shopping and, unfortunately, identity theft.
Let's face it, online shopping is easier than facing the barrage of people who will be at the mall this holiday season. The bargains are there online and the hassle of carrying multiple packages to your car and facing potential hazards of crowds aren't an issue from behind the PC.
But, unfortunately, there are hazards lurking in the world wide web as real as in a dimly lit parking lot at night! So, here are some great tips to protect your credit and your identity while shopping online this holiday season:
First things first - protect your PC! Make sure your virus and anti-spyware software is up-to-date and fully functioning. If you do not have this software, we highly recommend you install it as soon as possible not only for the holidays but for year-round protection. Click here for the 2017 list of top protection software products available.
Don't get phished...research before clicking. Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Phishing emails during the holiday season come disguised as special offers from some of your favorite retailers and are done so well that you will recognize the retailer's logo and marketing terminology. A simple google search of the retailer should enlighten you as to wether or not you should click on that ad! If you can't find the info online but you are very interested, call the retailer and ask questions.
Last year a new phishing technique arrived on the scene via apps in smart phone stores like Google Play and Apple enticing victims to add shopping apps. You can check the legitimacy of these apps by contacting your phone service provider or your local Apple and Android stores. You can also research these apps online to see if users were satisfied with them or if they are rated.
Don't use your credit card while logged on to a hotspot or open Wi-Fi. Avoid shopping online while you are using a public computer (such as at an airport lounge or public library) or when you are connected to publicWi-Fi (like your favorite cafe's free Wi-Fi or a hotel's complementary Wi-Fi). You can never know who is tracking or logging your personal information on public outlets like these. Note; using your smartphone as a personal hotspot is always safer than public Wi-Fi.
Use trusted websites and avoid search engines. Start at a trusted site rather than shopping with a search engine. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray. If you know the site, chances are it's less likely to be a rip off. Just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Bed, Bath & Beyond to Toys-r-Us to Walmart. Look for misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, the sales on these sites might look enticing, but that's how they trick you into giving up your info!
Look for the lock! Never make an online purchase using your credit card, PayPal or similar on a site that does not have Secure Sockets Layer encryption. You can identify this by looking for the following clues: A legitimate website will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a padlock will appear - typically it will be in the status bar at the bottom of your browser or right next to the URL in the address bar depending on your internet browser.
Protect your info online the same way you protect your wallet in public - keep it to yourself!! No online retailer should be asking for personal information such as your birth date or social security number (not even the last 4 digits)! The more 'they' know the easier 'they' can steal your identity. If you encounter a retailer asking for information such as this or anything that you feel isn't necessary for making a purchase, call the retailer directly and ask questions. You should also avoid using names or special dates as your passwords for the same reason.
Here's a couple of things to remember off-line to protect yourself too:
Check your credit card statements regularly for unusual charges. This is even more important during the holiday season and we recommend you check multiple times throughout the season rather than waiting to receive your statement in the mail. If you see anything questionable, contact your credit provider immediately to review.
Have your packages shipped to a safe place. If you aren't home during the day, don't have your expensive packages shipped to sit on your doorstep for hours awaiting your arrival. Thieves are actively stealing packages directly from doorsteps during the holiday season and there was a major spike in this type of theft in 2016. Have packages shipped to your place of work or to a safe place you know they can be retrieved such as a mail box.
I hope this information will be helpful to you this Holiday Season and wish you all the best. Please be sure to follow this blog throughout the Holidays and year-round for more useful health and safety tips!