By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner
The holiday season is just around the corner. Many of us already rely on online shopping for our everyday needs, likely from known retailers we return to on a regular basis. While you may feel comfortable making online purchases, be careful – the season of giving brings with it an increasingly vigorous volume of online sales activities. Unique gifts, specialty items and terrific deals are appearing in your inbox. Sought after items or something you had your eye on are advertised across social media channels. No doubt, you have heard many times before the tips to staying safe while shopping online. But a lot of good sense gets lost in this busy time of year. After all, there is so much to be done before you can settle in with a hot toddy, a warm fire and to unwrapping a few gifts for yourself. Don’t get lost in the flurry of seasonal cheer and forget to stay safe online. Shopping from the convenience of your couch, commuter train or local coffee shop, using phones, tablets and other mobile devices, might be the easy choice, just not necessarily the safe choice. Unlike gift certificates, your data doesn’t expire and you could unknowingly be shopping for friends and relatives near and dear to someone – just not you.
SHOP FROM KNOWN RETAILERS: By shopping on familiar sites, you are less likely to get any surprises. Beware of misspellings or domain names using “.net” instead of “.com” as that is one of the common ways scammers trick consumers.
BE SURE THE SITE IS SECURE: A secure website starts with https:// instead of http://. Secure sites will also have a small lock icon in the lower-right corner of the screen.
PAY WISELY: Use a credit card instead of a debit card. If your credit card data is used falsely, it’s easier to resolve issues with a credit card company than with your bank. Making purchases by providing your credit card number through email is never, ever wise.
BE WARY: Avoid shopping websites that offer prices that seem too good to be true. A common tactic by cyber criminals is using extremely low prices on popular items, such as electronics, to lure in potential victims. Buy from an unfamiliar website with a great deal and run the risk never seeing the merchandise (or the website) again. Worse yet, it could be a “phishing” scheme, where shoppers who click through are led to a false site developed to steal their data. If the deal is too good to pass up, enter the website name by hand into your browser.
GIVE THE LEAST AMOUNT OF INFORMATION POSSIBLE: Keep your personal information private. Don’t provide to anyone your social security number or your birthday. This information, combined with your credit card number, can result in identity theft.
REVIEW YOUR STATEMENTS: You should already be regularly checking statements for credit and debit cards as well as checking accounts regularly. In January and February, it’s especially important. Even small charges you don’t remember making can be a sign of fraud. Notify your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report unknown charges.
SHOP FROM HOME: There’s no place like home…for a secure network. Public Wi-Fi can be easily hacked, exposing your passwords, billing information and other sensitive data. When on a public Wi-Fi, limit yourself to window-shopping and price comparing, rather than buying. Do your holiday shopping from the safety of your home – not on your phone in a restaurant or store. If you want to shop on the go, make sure you use a VPN.
LOCK IT UP: On the go? Make sure your computers and devices are locked with a password. Otherwise, your personal information may find its way to prying eyes.
HIDE IT: Sometimes we just need the joy of walking into a store and if that’s the case, make sure all your valuables are out of sight – especially your phones, tablets and computers. Put them in the trunk so your tech works only for you.
ACCESS IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION SERVICE: Inconvenience is your friend when it means taking the time to verify purchases against fraud activity. Take advantage of the alert features on your credit cards. These alerts can warn you of abnormal account activity, which are helpful any time during the year but are especially useful during the busy holiday shopping season.
UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE: Make sure that your computer and your devices have the most current security software patches installed. Once a security patch is available, cyber criminals have all the information they need to attack devices that have not been updated. Read more about this here.
Bottom line, resist attacks and secure pretty much everything. Make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date and that you shop with reputable retailers. Monitor your credit card statements. By being vigilant, you can help to ensure that your online shopping brings you cheer in the New Year.
Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.