Retailers do whatever they can to attract online shoppers when the holiday season hits full swing— free shipping, easy returns, coupons and shopping for your favorite food or animal lover. In many industries, online shopping “holidays” such as Cyber Monday rivaled and beat brick-and-mortar sales. Unfortunately, increased online activity entices scam artists, putting your personal information at risk. Learning how to prevent identity theft is key for safe shopping over the holidays and all year.
Here are six online shopping safety tips that you can use when finding the perfect holiday gifts to protect your identity.
Know your vendors
Thwart cyber attacks by shopping and trusting on websites you know. Make sure you get to them via a reputable search engine, such as Google, or directly enter the URL. Online con artists are able to make web destinations look and feel like retail sites that are familiar or legitimate. This is something to be particularly aware of when clicking on links in emails. As a rule of thumb, make sure the URL looks legitimate and isn’t made up of multiple long strings of numbers and letters. If you’re planning on using your phone for holiday shopping, consider downloading apps from each vendor so you know you’re going straight to the source.
Confirm the site’s security
There are two ways to verify a website’s security. First, examine the URL in the address bar of your browser. If it starts with https://, the site is designed with added security in mind. Nowadays, all sites should be moving to be https, especially if they’re selling products online.
Another security indicator is an icon that looks like a lock that appears either next to the URL or in the bottom corner of your web browser. This universal symbol informs shoppers the site is safe. If you can’t find either marker, your web browser may be doing the verification work for you. Online browsers such as Chrome and Firefox will now warn you before making a purchase from – or even visiting – a non-secure site.
Avoid unknown networks
Instead of using a public network, restrict online shopping to your home computer. On your hardware, you can run regular virus checks and updates, but you can’t be sure of a secure community computer or network. Plus, a network used by the masses is generally not a safe place to share your credit card information.
If you need to buy on the go, consider using a personal VPN to encrypt your transmission data or stick to known wireless networks at the very least. And always protect from prying eyes any personal information.
Opt for credit over debit
While it is not possible to trust everyone to use credit cards wisely, credit cards offer a level of fraud protection that you may not be able to use debit cards. Moreover, even before you do, credit card providers are likely to notice identity theft activity.
Shop instead with a cash-loaded disposable gift card if you’re worried about getting into debt. There is no protection against fraud, but your personal information is also not connected. It can also help you keep up with your budget.
Don’t store payment information
Decline vendor offers to store in their system your credit card information. It may save time, but in the long run it is risky. Data breaches are common as evidence of recent years, even among the largest retailers. In such a breach, stored information could jeopardize your identity.
This can also be a good move for your budget, as when payment data is already stored, it is very easy to purchase impulses. Payment information entered by hand helps you to become more aware of exactly what you are spending.
Use a reputable third party to handle transactions
Using a third party program such as PayPal, ApplePay or GooglePay can be a useful way to add an extra level of online purchasing security. It does not allow vendors to have your credit card number.
That being said, other third party payment apps, like Venmo or SquareCash, should only be used to pay people you know and trust—especially since they connect directly to your checking account.
Make it a safe season
Be sure to take precautionary measures offline when shopping at the local mall or retail store as well as ensuring your online shopping security. Be aware of your wallet or purse at all times, be careful to enter your PIN at the ATM and cash register and leave your Social Security card at home.