Holiday shopping sure isn’t what it used to be. People are turning away from the craziness of the mall, and are instead using their smart phones, laptops and tablets to buy their gifts.
If you’re ditching the usual shopping experience for the less-stressful digital one, you’ll be in good company. Millions of people are expected to head online this year for their gift-giving needs.
But while online shopping provides greater freedom and convenience, it can come with some risks. Cyber criminals are prowling the internet - especially during the holiday season - looking to steal personal and financial information from unsuspecting shoppers. But the good news is that you can keep yourself and your wallet safe by staying on high alert. So, while working your way down your gift list this year, here are some online security tips to consider:
Stay away from sketchy sites. Whenever possible, do your shopping on popular, well-known websites. If you are tempted to buy from an unfamiliar site, be sure to do your research first. Google the name of the company to see if there are any scam alerts, or bad reviews out there. You would never give your credit card information to some creepy stranger on the street, would you? That’s really no different than giving it to some website you know nothing about.
Be wary of any deals that sound too good to be true. Say you’re surfing around and you find a price for an item that’s unbelievable. Chances are that it’s bogus. That’s one of the ways crooks lure in unsuspecting buyers to their sites. Once there, they have ways to con you out of sensitive banking and credit card information.
Be on the lookout for “imposter” sites. Even if you’re looking to buy from a website with a great reputation, or one that you’ve purchased from multiple times, you still need to have your guard up. Online scammers have been known to create fake, bogus sites that mirror the ones you know and trust. So, be sure to double-check the address bar of your favorite online store before entering your sensitive information. If you’re looking to buy on BestBuy.com, but you notice that the URL reads “bestbuy.shoppingstore.net”, then you’re not really on BestBuy.com, you’re on a site called “ShoppingStore.net” that is posing as BestBuy.
Only shop on secure sites. Before typing in your credit card or personal information online, it’s extremely important to verify that your connection to the website is secure. If the connection is not secure, it means the data you enter will not be encrypted, and can be easily accessed by cyber crooks. You can tell whether you are on a secure, encrypted connection by checking the URL in your browser’s address bar. If the URL begins with “https”, and there is an icon of a lock to the left of the URL, it means the connection is secure.
Don’t shop using free Wi-Fi. Free, public Wi-Fi connections typically don’t have the best safeguards in place to protect you, such as firewalls and encryption technology. The same goes for public computers - they’re usually just as unsafe. If you’re out and about using public Wi-Fi or a shared device, wait until you get home to do your online shopping.
Know your apps. Only use trustworthy apps when mobile shopping. More and more people are turning to their smartphones to shop, and if you’re one of them, use apps provided directly by a retailer. Just as there are many bogus websites out there, there are just as many phony apps waiting to take advantage of you.
Keep up with updates. Make sure your devices have the latest versions of security software installed. And be sure to use the most recent version of your operating system and web browser. This will help ensure that you are properly defended against any newly identified viruses or malware.
Monitor your accounts. You should check your banking and credit card accounts on a regular basis, at least once a week if possible. If you come across any suspicious activity or unauthorized purchases, report them immediately to your bank or credit card issuer.
Most importantly, don’t let your guard down while shopping online. Being on the lookout for anything suspicious will go a long way to keeping your sensitive information safe. Stay vigilant, and don’t let your holiday be ruined by cyber crooks!