Tips for safe online holiday shopping

It’s that time of year again! With the holidays approaching, we’re all looking forward with anticipation and excitement to connecting and celebrating with the people we love. As you start your holiday shopping, it’s important to remember that all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season also opens the door to cybersecurity threats – and no one wants to spend Christmas ordering new credit cards or trying to recover stolen passwords.

The holidays can get hectic, but we’re here with some tips to help you keep your personal and banking information secure.

1. Order from trusted retailers.

For safe holiday shopping, stick with retailers that have a strong reputation and security practices in place (think: Amazon, Etsy, Target or Walmart). You may be thinking, “…but I found a better deal on this new website I found.” Just remember: if the deal looks too good to be true, chances are, it probably is.

It’s always smart to do some research before trusting a new site with your sensitive personal and banking information. Here are some general tips to help confirm a site’s authenticity:

  • Check to be sure the URL begins with “https.” The “s” stands for secure.
  • Double check the spelling of the web address.

Hackers are good at making cloned websites that are almost perfect copycats of the real thing. Unless you confirm the URL is spelled correctly in your browser, you may never know you are browsing a malicious source.

2. Make all purchases with a credit card.

A credit card offers security advantages over a debit card because credit cards have additional fraud protections built in:

  • Credit cards have spending limits.
  • Credit cards are not directly linked to checking account funds.
  • Most financial companies have programs in place to dispute fraudulent credit card transactions and issue refunds, when applicable.

With a debit card, if someone gains access to your banking information through a debit transaction, they can spend until the card is cancelled – and there’s no guarantee those funds will be refunded.

Where possible, we also recommend using the same credit card for all online purchases. This makes it easier to track your purchasing activities, so you can quickly identify fraudulent charges if they do pop up.

3. Be smart when creating accounts with retailers.

From online boutiques to food delivery services, there are ways to buy everything online, many consumers let their guard down when creating online accounts. Allowing websites to save your personal information and using the same password across multiple sites may be convenient for you, but it’s also convenient for cybercriminals.

Your personal and banking information are the most important facets of your online identity, so it’s information you want to protect by:

  • Creating multiple strong passwords to use across your online accounts.
  • Only saving account information with trusted retailers.
  • Only providing required information (skip form fields that are optional).

4. Be on the lookout for suspicious emails.

Phishing scams are especially prominent during the holidays, and the Federal Trade Commission has some great information on how to recognize and avoid them.

If you think you’ve encountered a phishing scam, it’s best to:

  • Report it to your email service provider.
  • Do not open any links or file downloads before confirming the email’s authenticity.
  • If you suspect your personal information has been accessed by a scammer, visit gov and follow all necessary steps.

5. Review your banking activity regularly to watch for fraudulent transactions.

This is a year-round recommendation but is especially important during the holiday season. If you encounter a fraudulent transaction, contact your bank immediately to investigate the matter and to cancel your card(s). This will prevent any further fraud from taking place, and most banks are quick to reissue new cards while your fraud claim is being processed.

6. Do not shop on public Wi-Fi.

Public internet networks typically are not encrypted or secured, making them a hot spot for hackers. It’s better to shop on at-home internet connections, and best to use a virtual private network (VPN) when available.

7. Use two-factor authentication.

Many ecommerce sites allow you to set up two-factor identification. This service allows you to verify your identity with each sign in and is especially beneficial when signing into a new device. 2FA is recommended especially for online shopping because it creates a second gate to pass through before accessing personal banking information. By confirming your identity with an email or SMS push, your saved purchasing information is better protected.

8. Consider purchasing through a retailer’s app instead of a web browser.

Retailer-sponsored mobile apps are often more secure because the company has control over what security measures are implemented in that space. With web browsers, the responsibility for cybersecurity shifts to the search engine provider. Whichever route you choose, make sure you’re using a verified and reputable search engine or mobile app (Google, Target, etc.).

In the hustle of the holiday season, we hope you will take your time to find great online deals that are also safe and secure. Happy holidays from us here at OTELCO!