How not to fall victim to cybercriminals as you shop online this holiday season

Laveta Brigham

Given the pandemic, more people than ever will shop online for holiday purchases. In a recent Bankrate.com survey, 71% of those polled said they plan to make most of their holiday purchases online, 20 percent more than last year. According to Adobe Analytics, online sales in November and December are […]

Given the pandemic, more people than ever will shop online for holiday purchases. In a recent Bankrate.com survey, 71% of those polled said they plan to make most of their holiday purchases online, 20 percent more than last year. According to Adobe Analytics, online sales in November and December are expected to increase 33% year over year to a record $189 billion.

However, while you’re trying to stay safe and avoid crowded stores and malls, cybercriminals are prepping to pounce on unsuspecting shoppers. Don’t get mesmerized by the merriment and let your guard down. Also be mindful of your online behavior. Eighty percent of those surveyed by Bankrate.com said they reused online passwords. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Furthermore, in the past year, 45% saved passwords on a computer or phone, 39% saved payment information and 36% used public Wi-Fi. Do none of that this holiday season or thereafter.

Here’s how to shop safely.

Pay attention to red flags

There are signs you just shouldn’t ignore. Look at the beginning of a website address. You want to see https because that means the site is encrypted and any personal information entered will be secure. If there is no s, it’s not secure. “Even if you’ve found the perfect gift on a site that doesn’t have https it isn’t worth the risk of purchasing it because your information could be compromised,” says Suresh Renganathan, chief technology officer at Teachers Federal Credit Union in Hauppauge.

Be wary if an online store asks for personal information like birth date or Social Security number to complete a purchase. “It’s likely a scam. All that should be necessary is your name, shipping address, payment information, email address, and perhaps a phone number. Give out as little information as possible,” Renganathan says.

Scrutinize emails. “Delete suspicious holiday offer emails immediately. Scammers often use malicious links in fake promotional emails to send users to pages that ask for sensitive information used for identity theft and fraud and can even install ransomware directly onto your device. Consider calling the retailer or doing additional online research to confirm that the offer is legitimate and never provide any sensitive information on a non-trustworthy site or form,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney with the Tayne Law Group in Melville.

Be vigilant

It can be challenging to remember which website you purchased gifts from. Keep a list. “Tracking your online purchases and comparing it to your account activity via your online or mobile banking app is the easiest way to determine whether you are a victim of fraud. This comparison should be conducted often,” Renganathan says.

Consider virtual card numbers. Some issuers, like Citi and Capital One offer them. They’re basically disposable credit card numbers that mask your main card number. “So if there’s fraud, it’s easily contained and you won’t need a new card and you won’t need to reset all of your automated payments,” says Ted Rossman, a credit card analyst with Bankrate.com.

He also says to use a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane to help you set and remember strong, unique passwords but only require you to remember one master password.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card. There is a difference in how fraud is handled. Says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre, “With a debit card, your bank balance is affected immediately, but with a credit card, you technically haven’t lost any money. It’s the creditor’s money that is stolen, there are more protections for you.”

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