Okay, so you can’t get mugged shopping online, but you can still get ripped off and even lured into giving a hacker access to your computer and, ultimately, your bank account.
Scammers love the holiday season because they know many people are taking advantage of the convenience of online shopping. Identity theft is a real concern, especially if you’re not careful. Here’s how you can increase your personal security.
- Back your data up every day. If you get hacked, at least you’ll have all your data, especially if the hacker is holding your files hostage with ransomware and demanding a payment for the “key” to retrieve your files.
- Every retailer you have an account with should have a different password.
- Try to avoid buying from small merchants whose websites are usually not secure. A hacker may also set up a website designed to look like a legitimate seller of some novelty item like decorative gift baskets or handkerchiefs. Before purchasing from them, Google them and see what comes up, and check the Better Business Bureau. Duplicate favorable reviews on different sites are a red flag.
- Ignore e-mails from any and all retailers. Scammers will often use email to impersonate legitimate retailers.
- If you end up opening an e-mail allegedly from a merchant, eBay (“Check out this great deal!”), holiday sweepstakes announcing “You’ve Won!” etc., do not click on any links, as this could download a virus.
- Speaking of eBay, if you want to shop there, go there directly, and buy only from sellers with very positive feedback.
- Be highly suspicious of some long-lost relative or friend asking you for money to get through the holidays; it’s most likely a scammer pretending to be someone you know.
- When it comes to using public Wi-Fi, avoid financial transaction and online shopping. Identity theft is a very real risk when you’re transmitting personal information over unsecured networks.
- Use only credit cards, where you can dispute a fraudulent charge and get a charge reversal, whereas with a debit card, once your money is gone, it’s g-o-n-e.
- Avoid using a check or money-order for making purchases. Again, like a debit card, your money will disappear if you made the transaction with a crook.
- Buy common items at big-name retailers who have secure sites (a padlock symbol followed by “https” for the URL).
- Make sure your computer and smartphone are fully protected with security software, and keep this software updated.
The key tasks to helping prevent identity theft when shopping online revolve around increasing your cyber scam intelligence, keeping your devices properly protected and updated, and making sure all credit card activity has been authorized by you.