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Headlines about security breaches at our favorite retailers flood the news this time of year reminding us about the risks of credit card fraud and potential identity theft. Despite these warnings, many people continue to get click-happy for hot deals online and enter credit card information without thinking twice. In addition to unauthorized transactions, let’s not forget the inconvenience cyber crime can bring. Few things are worse than finding out your bank froze your credit card due to cyber-crime activity — preventing you from finishing your holiday shopping. However, by practicing secure shopping methods, you have a much better chance to protect yourself from these unwanted situations.
Here are eight tips to keep your personal and payment information as safe as possible during the holiday season:
1. Use Strong & Complex Passwords & Change Them Frequently
First line of defense is your password so make sure it is strong, especially when using e-commerce sites. A good rule of thumb is to use a password with at least 8 characters including a combination of numbers, capital and lower case letters and symbols. Don’t use a password that relates to your name, a real word or anything that is easy to guess.
2. Be Careful What You Click
Phishing scams — or the attempt to get sensitive information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an email — run rampant during the holidays. During the holiday season, phishing scams often include inbox items advertising a hot gift you’ve already been tracking, at a ridiculously low price. If the email is coming from someone you’re not familiar with, and it’s touting a great deal, it’s probably too good to be true. To play it safe, do your own research first. Go directly to the retailer’s website to confirm the deal is legitimate before you click. For more information about how to identify a hoax email, click here.
3. Read the Fine Print
It may not be the sexiest advice you’ve ever heard, but reading about what you’re agreeing to before you complete a transaction is critical. If you don’t, you could end up in an automatic $40/month bacon club that will charge you every month until you notice and call them to cancel your membership. It’s also a good idea to read privacy policies and make sure they’re not saving your payment information.
4. Don’t Store Card Information on E-Commerce Websites
Although inconvenient to re-type your credit card information every time you place an order, this one should be a no brainer during the holiday season when cybercrime is at an all-time high.
5. Check for the ‘S’ in the web address
Make sure a website is secure when shopping. As long as the website address has an “s” after the “http,” the site is safe.
6. Don’t Shop Online from Public WiFi or Unknown Networks
Most public networks are not secure and it’s rather easy to steal username and passwords when accessing the same network – especially for highly skilled cyber criminals. So don’t take that risk. You’re better off waiting until you're home or on a network that you know is secure.
7. Update Your Social Media Profiles
No, seriously. Some people put way too much information in their social media profiles. Avoid sharing things like full names and birth dates that criminals can piece together with even a partial Social Security Number or credit card number.
8. Log Out and Close Your Browser
An Experian survey suggests “about one-fifth of online shoppers don’t log out of payment accounts or shopping sites before closing their browsers”. That is a risky business.