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Online Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

The Monday after Thanksgiving, known as Cyber Monday, marks the official start for online holiday shopping in the United States. Nearly one quarter of online shopping in the U.S. occurs in November and December.

According to eMarketer, Cyber Monday 2018 saw $7.87 billion in online sales, making it the largest online spending day in history. But the report projected U.S. retail spending to increase by 3.7% in 2019.

The offers and deals associated with the online holiday shopping season draw numerous consumers. They also attract the predators. Online identity theft attempts saw an increase during the 2017 holiday season compared to the year before — one out of 85 transactions was tagged as a fraudulent attempt.

Don't let thieves spoil your celebration. Here are some cybersecurity tips for the holidays:

1. Shop on Websites and Apps That You Trust

One way to shop safely and securely online is to conduct online business with familiar retailers that you trust and have shopped with before. Don't be fooled by the lure of great discounts offered by less-than-reputable websites.

Be sure to type the actual web address into your browser. Avoid following links provided by email offers, pop-ups, or social network ads. These links could take you to fake sites designed to infect your computer or obtain personal information such as your credit card number or bank account number.

Never purchase merchandise from a website that does not use HTTPS for the purchase process. Check the address line of your browser during the purchase process; it should start with HTTPS. The S means that the website provides a layer of security for transmitting your personal information over the internet.

Only use apps from known, reputable sources. If you prefer to shop using the app of your favorite retailer, make sure you download it from a reputable source, such as Google Play, Apple's App Store, or the Amazon Appstore. When you download the app, it will ask for permissions. Read through the request to make sure it makes sense.

2. Check Out the Business

Another online shopping security concern is the fact that there are a lot of fake and malicious companies on the internet. When considering a new website or online company for your holiday purchases, read the reviews to see what other customers’ experiences have been, and check to see whether the company has a good presence on social networks.

Also verify that the website has a legitimate mailing address and phone number for sales or a brick-and-mortar location.

3. Make Sure It's Not Too Good to Be True

If a website offers something that looks too good to be true, it probably is. Compare prices and pictures of the merchandise on similar websites. A common tactic by cybercriminals is to use extremely low prices on popular items, such as electronics, to lure potential victims and steal their personal information.

Be especially careful with unexpected emails with links or attachments for “special offers.” They might direct you to a bogus phishing website that was built to capture your information or infect your computer with malware. Delete the unexpected emails, don’t click on any links, and don’t open any attachments from individuals or businesses you are unfamiliar with.

If you want to make sure your internet shopping is safe, beware of fake package tracking emails, fake e-cards, and emails requesting that you confirm purchase information. They are particularly common during the holiday season.

4. Keep Your Device Healthy

Keep your device secured. Install the recommended security patches and updates that your computer or mobile device manufacturer provides. Use the latest version of your internet browser and plug-ins to avoid security holes. Install antivirus software and security apps, and make sure they are up-to-date.

Always lock your mobile device when it is not in use. This sounds trivial, but unlocked devices left unattended can expose your personal information to prying eyes. Most mobile devices request that you set it to automatically lock. A password, a drawing pattern, or even a biometric trait is then requested to unlock the phone. Take advantage of these built-in features.

5. Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi networks can reveal your information. Because these connections are often unprotected, it is easy to intercept your communications, including passwords and credit card data.

Window-shop and compare prices only. If you are using a public connection, do your research, but avoid buying. Purchase via your home network or when you are connected to a trusted, secured network.

Avoid logging on to key accounts, such as email and banking, using public Wi-Fi. If inevitable, remember to change your passwords as soon as you can connect to a trusted network.

Set your device to “always ask” before joining a Wi-Fi network. You don’t want to unknowingly connect to an insecure hotspot.

6. Create Strong Passwords

Passwords are the keys to your wallet. Make them long and strong — easy for you to remember but very difficult to guess. Never reveal them to anyone. Change them periodically.

Be sure to create a unique password for each unique account. Having separate passwords for work or college and personal accounts limits the damage if you have fallen victim to a cybercriminal. It also reduces the chances of being a victim because easy targets are always exploited first.

Don't auto-save your passwords or credit card numbers. Entering this information manually is just a minor inconvenience compared to the risk of having your personal information stolen by malware or someone who hacked into your computer or mobile device.

7. Don’t Share Too Much Information

No shopping website will ask for your Social Security number. Combined with other personal information, serious damage can be done through identity theft. Always share the least amount of personal information possible.

8. Check Your Statements

Check your credit card and bank statements regularly. These are often the first indicators that your identity and personal data have been stolen. If you see any charges you don’t recognize, address the matter immediately.

Use text and app alerts. Most banking apps or sites give you the option to set text or message alerts about transactions made over a specified amount, making it easier to spot unusual activity.

9. Use These Tips All Year Long

Keep these useful tips in mind for your online shopping security year-round, not just during the holidays!

This article does not constitute legal, accounting or other professional advice. Although the information contained herein is intended to be accurate, Cathay Bank does not assume liability for loss or damage due to reliance on such information.

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