The holiday shopping season is here, which means that people nationwide will be driving to local stores and malls or taking to their computers to do some shopping for their friends and loved ones for the holidays. With the almost nonstop hustle and bustle throughout the month of December, consumers will likely take to the Internet to get their holiday shopping done. While the Internet provides a quick, easy, and quiet place to get our holiday shopping done, it can also be a place in which online thieves can easily steal your identity, if you’re not careful.
This holiday season, feel safe and secure online while getting your shopping done for your loved ones. Check out our 9 handy tips below to see how you can protect your identity and your computer!
Use Familiar Websites – One of the best ways you can keep safe is by shopping through a trusted website than through a search engine. If you know the websites, chances are that you won’t be ripped off. Sites such as Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart won’t lead you astray. Additionally, be careful that you don’t misspell the URL for the website and stay away from sites that are misspelled or use “.net” instead of “.com.” The sales on these sites might look really great, but it is the oldest trick in the book to lure you into giving up your information.
Don’t Share Everything – When ordering online, you will need to input your name and address so that the package can be sent to you; however, no retailer needs to know your birthday or social security number to do business with you. If thieves on the other end receive your birthday or social security number in combination with your credit card number, they can do quite a bit of damage to your bank account pretty quickly. The more they know, the easier it will be to steal your identity. If at all possible, give out the least amount of information as you can.
Look for Secure Sites – Never purchase anything online from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed, at the very least. You can tell if a site has SSL because the URL will begin with https:// instead of just http://. You should also see a locked padlock either at the status bar at the bottom of your web browser or right next to the URL in the address bar, depending on your browser. Also, never give your credit card information over email.
Check Your Statements – Stay vigilant this holiday season; don’t wait till the end of the month to worry about your bills. Go online regularly and view your electronic statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Be sure that you don’t see any fraudulent or unexplainable charges, even from sites like PayPal. If you see something wrong, address the matter right away and only pay your bills once you know all the charges are accurate. You have 30 days to notify your bank or credit issuer of the situation. Past that, however, you could be liable for the charges anyway.
Use Strong Passwords – You’ve heard it over and over again – use strong passwords. This is absolutely crucial when it comes to online shopping. Avoid using short, common words and opt for a more unique password that includes numbers, punctuation, and capitalization.
Protect Your Computer – Sometimes, thieves will go the extra mile in trying to steal your identity by offering you something “extra” to help things along. You need to keep your computer protected against malware and malicious files with regular updates to your anti-virus program. At the very least, protect your computer with the free Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.0 to give yourself an edge against viruses and malware.
Be Smart on Your Phone – According to the National Retail Federation, approximately 6% of adults will use their smartphones to do comparison shopping before making a purchase, and 32% will do comparison shopping online with a computer as well. These days there’s no need to be hesitant to shop on your smartphone instead of on a computer. The trick is to use apps provided directly by the retailers such as Amazon, Target, and other large companies. When you use these apps, you can make quick, safe purchases without having to go to the store!
Avoid Public Terminals – When you make online purchases, you should really use your own laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone, not a public one. If you have no choice but to use a public computer to make purchases, remember to log out every time you use a public terminal, even if you’re just checking your email. If you’re making purchases on your laptop in a public area like a café, be sure to deter any potential over-the-shoulder on-lookers and sit with your back against the wall.
Privatize Your Wi-Fi – If you decide to shop online on your laptop in a public area, you should only use the wireless if you access the Internet over a virtual private network (VPN) connection. If you don’t get one from your employer, you can set one up for free with AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, if you’re willing to deal with the ads or pay $4.99 a month to avoid the ads. Additionally, stick to known networks, even if they’re free, like those found at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble stores. You can also find free Wi-Fi at McDonalds, Panera Bread, and FedEx Office locations along with libraries and local cafes.
Remember, skepticism and vigilance in most cases can go a long, long way toward saving you from a stolen card number or a stolen identity. For more safety tips, be sure to call us at 1-800-766-MMIC or visit us online at www.madisonmutual.com! Happy shopping!