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Tips for keeping your information secure while shopping for gifts online
The holidays are right around the corner. While some of us will have our keyboards ready at the stroke of midnight on Cyber Monday, others will wait until the very last minute to do their holiday shopping, hoping that Amazon Prime’s expedited shipping will come to the rescue. However, with the convenience of online shopping comes a certain amount of risk. Cyberattacks and cybercrimes, including identity and credit card theft, are on the rise. In 2015, more than 280,000 cybercrime complaints were made, with over 125,000 reporting dollar loss.
Jian Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Texas Woman’s University, says there are precautions you can take to keep your personal information safe while shopping online. She offers the following tips:
- Shop with trusted brands and familiar sites.
Sites like Amazon.com and Bestbuy.com have a strong reputation for cyber security. Be wary of sites offering deals that seem “too good to be true,” and check customer reviews when purchasing from individual retailers on sites like Ebay or Etsy.
- Check the URL for important clues.
Look for website addresses that begin with “https” and a padlock symbol, which indicate a secure connection. You also should verify that the domain is familiar (.com) and be particularly careful about purchases from international domains (.ca, .in and .uk, for example), as some foreign countries have few regulations for online retailers.
- Be cautious about the type of personal information a vendor is requesting.
While setting up an account or proceeding through the checkout process, keep in mind that legitimate retailers will never ask for your Social Security number. Your birthdate is only necessary if you are purchasing alcohol or tobacco products online, and providing this information should be optional if the retailer wants you to take part in special birthday promotions.
- Use a credit card or secure payment service instead of a debit card.
Credit card companies and secure payment services like Paypal or Google Wallet provide protection for online shoppers in the event of an online scam or unshipped item. When making a mobile payment, ApplePay and Venmo are good options. Most debit cards do not provide the same level of security, and you will be using them at your own risk.
- Choose your mobile network (e.g., AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint) or your private home Wi-Fi over public Wi-Fi (e.g., in a coffee shop) when shopping online.
In addition, you should always avoid using a public or work computer to make online payments.
- Never click on links from spam emails to make purchases.
Spam or “phishing” emails are online communications you did not ask to receive, and often come from an unknown source. Even if the company sending the email appears to be legitimate, it is best to navigate to the website by searching for it in your browser. Never click a link in an email you suspect to be spam, even if it appears to redirect to the website.
- Use a virus protector on your computer and update your anti-virus/anti-malware application to stay safe.
Not sure if you’re up-to-date? Click the anti-virus or anti-malware icon on your toolbar and check for updates waiting to be installed. The security of your personal information is always worth a system reboot.
- Take a screen shot or print your order confirmation page.
You should keep the email confirmation as well, and confirm that all of the information provided is accurate and shows the total amount paid.
- Monitor your accounts closely.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reports that 52 percent of all identity theft victims discovered that their identity was stolen by monitoring their accounts. Check your statements often to catch unauthorized purchases, and contact your bank immediately to resolve any discrepancies you find.
Page last updated 8:43 AM, April 22, 2019