Online Holiday Shopping Safety Tips
1. Shop at websites and use apps you trust
Conduct online business with familiar retailers that you trust and have shopped online with before. Don't be fooled by the lure of great discounts offered by less-than-reputable websites or fake companies.
Be sure to type the actual website address into your browser. Avoid following links provided by email offers, pop-ups or social networks ads. These links could take you to fake sites designed to infect your computer.
Never purchase merchandise from a website that does not use secure HTTPS for the purchase process. Check the address line of your browser during the purchase process; it should start with HTTPS. The "s" means 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 Store, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for permissions. Read through them and check if they make sense.
2. Check out the business
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 had been and check whether the company has a good presence in social networks.
Also verify that the website has a legitimate mailing address and a phone number for sales or a brick-and-mortar location.
3. 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 at similar websites. A common tactic by cyber criminals is to use extremely low prices on popular items, such as electronics, to lure in potential victims and steal your personal information.
Be especially careful with unexpected emails with links or attachments for “special offers”. They may 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.
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, updated version of your Internet browser and plug-ins to avoid security holes. Install anti-virus software and security apps and make sure they are up to date.
Always lock your mobile device when 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 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 onto 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 hot spot.
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.
Unique account, unique password. Having separate passwords for work/college and personal accounts limit the damage if you have fallen victim to a cybercriminal. It also reduces the chances of being a victim since easy targets are always exploited first.
Don't auto-save your passwords or credit card numbers. This is just a minor inconvenience compared to the risk of having your personal information stolen by malware or someone that hacked into your computer or mobile device.
7. Don’t share too much information
No shopping website will ever 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 apps 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. Not only for holiday shopping
Consider these useful tips for all your online shopping year-round!