Personal Insurance

Safe Online Shopping – Staying Cyber Secure This Holiday Season

Safe Online Shopping

Online holiday shopping isn’t just for Cyber Monday. The retail industry expects to see yet another big year-over-year increase in online purchases this Christmas season, and the shopping will go all the way up to Christmas Eve. As we get ready for another busy round of holiday shopping, it’s worth taking a moment to review safe shopping practices that can help protect your money, your identity, and your peace of mind.

Hardware

The hardware you use to make online purchases can have an impact on the safety of your personal information. Many security experts recommend that shoppers use a desktop or laptop rather than a mobile device for their online shopping. There are a few reasons for this:

Device security: Though it’s possible to be completely safe making transactions on a phone or tablet, most users aren’t well acquainted with all of the security settings on their mobile devices. This creates the possibility that a given device may not be “locked down” for secure transactions.

Network safety: Mobile devices tend to be a bit undiscriminating regarding the networks they connect to, and we’ve grown so accustomed to latching onto any handy Wi-Fi connection that we almost don’t think about it anymore.

Intrinsic “mobileness”: A final factor with mobile devices that isn’t as much of an issue with desktop and laptop computers is that mobile devices have a higher risk of being lost or stolen. Using auto-fill and other “convenience” settings can cause major issues if the device gets into the wrong hands.

If you want to increase the safety of your online transactions this holiday season, stick to the computer on your desk at home—or even at work, if you don’t share it with others.

Software

Of course, the security of any computer or device is almost entirely dependent on the software that runs it. Before you begin shopping, it’s a good idea to do the following:

Update your system software. No matter what operating system you use, having the most current security patches installed is always a good idea.

Update your virus/malware protection. Get the newest updates, and make sure no critical features have been disabled.

Update and clean up your browser. If you haven’t done so recently, check the version of your browser, and update it if necessary. Also, take a moment to evaluate any plug-ins and toolbars you might have installed—especially any that may have been installed “accidentally” as part of downloaded software. (Hint: if a piece of software has to piggyback on another installer to get onto your computer, you probably don’t want it there.)

It’s also worth noting that the security of your various bank and shopping accounts is only as good as your password. Learn more about creating better, more secure passwords.

Network

Shop only on trusted networks. This should go without saying, but a lot of people truly don’t realize the dangers of making financial transactions via a public network.

The availability of ubiquitous Wi-Fi has lulled many of us into a false sense of security. Public Wi-Fi is inherently unsecure. When you use public Wi-Fi, you should assume that everything you do—every email you send or receive, every search you do, every page you view—can be seen by any other person with access to the same hot spot.

Because of this, your safest choice is to only conduct financial transactions via a trusted home or work connection. (Of course, if your home Wi-Fi is unprotected, that’s not a good thing either.) That doesn’t mean you can’t shop in a cafe, a library, a hotel, or another locale. Just don’t log into your account, and definitely don’t enter your credit card or bank information.

Sites

If you want to decrease the possibility that your credit card will be compromised or your identity stolen, limit your online shopping to sites you know and trust.
This may seem pretty obvious, but make sure all financial transactions are conducted only on sites that are protected via HTTPS. Look for the HTTPS and the padlock in your browser before you cough up your credit card number.

It should go without saying that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Clicking on unsolicited emails advertising unrealistic holiday deals is one of the best ways to get your computer or financial information hacked.

Payment

If you’re shopping online, you’re most likely going to be using a credit card. The good news is that most credit cards come with protection for fraudulent charges. The bad news is, if your card gets compromised it’ll have to be cancelled and a new card reissued—an inconvenience any time, but especially during the holiday shopping season.

There are a few additional options you can use if you’d like to be even safer. Using a PayPal account can provide another layer of protection, because the merchant will never have a record of your credit card info. Not all merchants accept PayPal, but more and more are doing so. PayPal also provides extra protection for purchases through its “$0 Liability for Eligible Unauthorized Transactions” program.

If you have to purchase something from a site you’re not sure about, one extreme option is to buy prepaid credit cards and use those exclusively for your online shopping. The upside is that these cards are not linked to your personal information. The downside is that, if someone commits fraud using your prepaid card, it’s likely that you’re not protected by the company issuing the card.

Monitoring

When it comes to security, follow-up is almost as important as preparation. Security experts recommend that you keep a paper trail of your transactions, and monitor your bank and other accounts (such as PayPal) for fraudulent transactions.
If your bank offers monitoring services, take advantage of them to help catch bad charges as soon as they occur.

If you see something on your bank statements (online or paper) that doesn’t look right, notify your bank immediately so you can begin the process of cancelling or refunding the charge.

 

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