6 Online Shopping Safety Tips for the Holiday Season
With the holidays approaching, there's a good chance that you'll be shopping for gifts online. During the 2018 holiday season, Americans spent a record $126 billion on online purchases, according to Adobe Analytics.
But online shopping comes with risks. When precautions aren't taken, your personal and financial information could fall into the hands of cybercriminals. In 2018, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 351,936 complaints and cybercrime resulted in losses of over $2.7 billion.
To protect your personal information this holiday season, use the following online shopping safety tips:
1. Make Sure the Company Is Legitimate
To verify that a business is real, do an internet search. If it's legitimate, you should see customer feedback about the company and its products. Another tip to remember: If the prices are too good to be true, they probably are. Do a Whois search by entering the store's URL. The contact details on Whois should match the contact information on the store's website.
2. Verify That the Website Is Secure
Once you know that a reputable company owns the website, check that they've taken precautions to protect customers' personal information. Make sure that the site is using a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate — you can confirm this by checking that their URL starts with "https" instead of just "http." If you're using your smartphone to shop, remember to check app security protocols before downloading anything.
3. Protect Your Passwords
Maintaining unique passwords for each of your online accounts, including your logins for shopping websites, is crucial. Change your passwords regularly and don't share them or leave them in a place for others to see. A password manager can help you create strong passwords, and keep track of and prompt you to change them regularly.
4. Take Advantage of Credit and Debit Card Perks
Call your credit or debit card issuer to see if they offer alerts for suspicious activity. For instance, KeyBank has a fraud alert system to ensure that customers aren’t responsible for unauthorized charges, including those made online. KeyBank immediately contacts customers via text or email to verify a possible fraudulent transaction and calls them if there's no response after 30 minutes. The card is blocked immediately if the customer confirms that the purchase is fraudulent. Credit and debit cards also usually come with an additional layer of security, beyond alerts. For example, if you have a Mastercard, you're enrolled in Zero Liability Protection — cardholders are not held responsible for unauthorized transactions if they promptly report loss or theft.
5. Monitor Your Online Accounts
It's tempting to wait to review your charges until the bill arrives at the end of the month, but it's best to check your online accounts regularly — especially during the holiday season. Even if you've set up fraud alerts, it's still wise to keep an eye out for any fraudulent charges. Make sure to check each of your credit reports at least once a year as well.
6. Don't Shop in Public Places
Before you go online, make sure you're not connecting over free public Wi-Fi as this makes it easy for hackers to scrape your data. And avoid making purchases in public places: Shopping on your laptop at a coffee shop means strangers can look over your shoulder to see your credit card information. It's also important to lock all of your devices, particularly when left unattended.
There's no reason to forgo the convenience of online shopping due to security risks. As long as you take appropriate precautions, you should be able to safely complete your holiday shopping from the comfort of your home.