As the holidays quickly approach, you may be planning on doing a lot of your shopping online. You aren’t alone – last year 85 percent of U.S. consumers planned to shop online for holiday gifts, according to a Nielsen survey.
It couldn’t be easier to get everything you need for the holidays while sitting on the couch. But you could also come away with something you didn’t expect — a stolen identity.
While this might sound dramatic, it is entirely possible if you don’t follow best practices when shopping online. In 2016, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received nearly 300,000 online-theft complaints, and victims lost a total of $1.3 billion. You certainly don’t want to spend the New Year cleaning up the mess from identity thieves and hackers.
Before filling your cart, remember these tips to protect your identity and shop safely online this season.
1. Shop from trusted websites
Did you find a great deal on a product, from a company you’ve never heard of, that ships directly from China? Don’t buy so fast. Be cautious of websites that could be posing as businesses in order to take your credit card information and other personal data. Do your best to only shop online with businesses you trust and have frequented before.
2. Do Your Research
If you find a new and exciting site to purchase from, do some research to make sure it’s the real deal. A quick search of “store name + scam” could help you find articles that warn you about that business. Also, check out their social media pages and look for customer reviews. If you’re really having trouble deciding if a site is real, contact them! If you can’t find their phone number or address, that’s a big red flag.
3. Be Wary of Overly Cheap Prices
Follow the old adage that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be duped by prices that seem incredibly low – it could be a sign that they don’t actually have those products in stock, or that the item is inauthentic. Look at other sites and make sure the listed price is similar.
4. Don’t Shop on Public Wi-Fi
Remember that public Wi-Fi networks, like the ones at coffee shops, use public airwaves. A hacker could easily intercept your online activity and collect personal information and your credit card number. Browse all you want but save the purchase for a secure network!
5. Use Strong Passwords
If you have accounts with the companies you purchase from, but don’t have strong passwords, those accounts could be vulnerable to hackers. Access to your account can allow them to change the shipping address as well as other information. Remember to use best practices for creating strong passwords –
● Use a complex set of letters, numbers, and symbols. The more random-seeming, the better.
● Don’t include personal information, like names of kids, pets, or your address.
● Don’t use passwords you have used on different sites, even if it is a secure combination. If one of the companies has a data breach, hackers could get access to your other accounts as well.
6. Make Sure it’s a Secure Website
While shopping online, look for a small lock icon to the left of the URL. That tells you the website has privacy protection installed. The URL will also start with “https,” instead of just “HTTP”. When a site has this protection installed, it masks and transfers the data you share, so you know your credit card info isn’t going to a sketchy database somewhere. If a site doesn’t have these measures in place, be very careful before making a purchase and giving them your credit card information.
7. Keep an Eye on Email Scams
You never want to open and click links in emails from unknown senders. Even if it’s a store offering a deal on a product you were interested in. Unless you signed up for emails from that site, or you know exactly what it is, you could risk your security. Hackers might pose as your favorite store, like Best Buy or Target, in an email, then infect your computer with malware and viruses when you click links. Pay close attention and if any part of the email looks questionable, mark as spam and delete immediately.
8. Use a Credit Card
If someone makes unauthorized charges on your credit card, federal regulations say you won’t have to pay while the card company investigates. Most major credit cards offer $0 liability for fraudulent purchases. You just need to report it as theft within 60 days. Should the worst-case scenario happen, at least you won’t be stuck with the bill.
If you follow these tips, hopefully, your holiday won’t be ruined by a Grinch-like hacker. Remember that these strategies apply all year round, so start practicing now!