7 Tips for Safe Holiday Online Shopping
The latest 'Tech Talk' column
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This holiday season, online sales are projected to grow 14-18% compared to 2018, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail projections, with nearly a quarter of annual online buying occurring Nov. 1-Dec. 31. It’s no surprise that online shopping is so popular, since it offers a range of fast and convenient options to free up much-needed time while families juggle packed holiday agendas, shuttle kids to a seemingly endless stream of events and enjoy time with loved ones.
Unfortunately, thieves see these distractions as opportunities. Online safety can seem like a luxury in our quest to make 2019 the best holiday season yet, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some easy and helpful hints to keep your family’s finances safe this holiday season.
1. Use a credit — not debit — card for online holiday purchases. Using a credit card protects your bank account in case of fraud, because they come with a “chargeback” feature that can be applied when a purchase is not legitimate, whereas thieves can empty a debit card linked to your bank account if they can access it. Compromised bank accounts also give thieves all the information they need to open new lines of credit and damage your credit rating.
2. Watch out for bogus charities and donations. The holiday season is a time of giving to others, but thieves often seek to take advantage of joyful spirits. The Federal Trade Commission lists the following as warning signs that a charity could be a scam:
• There is little to no information about how the donations will be used by the charity.
• You feel pressure to donate immediately.
• The charity asks for cash donations, gift cards or money to be wired to it.
3. ’Tis the season … for email scams. Most inboxes are bombarded on a regular basis, but this is especially true during the holiday season, when retailers know we’re in a shopping mood. Scammers seek to take advantage of this as well with schemes that seem to be getting more sophisticated each year. If you receive an email from an unknown sender, the email has attachments or the email promises something too good to be true, delete it. Manage your inbox with caution all year, but especially during the holiday season.
4. Reset your passwords. Use the holiday season as a standard time to reset your passwords. Yes, you’ve been promising yourself that you would do this on a regular basis, so why not now? Here are some key points to consider when resetting your password security:
• Use a variation of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols in your passwords.
• Don’t use personal information, such as birthdays.
• Avoid using the same password across multiple accounts. If thieves crack one, they will definitely try using it on your other accounts.
5. Be cautious with public Wi-Fi.
Use caution and don’t any make transactions on public Wi-Fi. With a little know-how, thieves can intercept your data while you’re entering sensitive information during transactions on public Wi-Fi. If you still can’t resist the lure and convenience of free Wi-Fi, consider using a VPN, which is short for “virtual private network.” A VPN encrypts the connection between your laptop or smartphone and the server.
6. Be mindful of website security.
While browsing retail sites this holiday season, look for the small lock icon in the corner of the URL bar that indicates the site is secure. Also look at the actual URL to make sure it starts with “https” on pages that ask for your financial information (typically checkout pages). The “s” on the end of the “http” indicates that information is secure and encrypted to mask any sensitive financial data you enter.
7. Check your statements. Check financial statements at least once a week during the holiday season, and set up account alerts with your bank and/or credit card provider.
Harold Henn is a senior digital marketing strategist at Walk West, a full-service marketing agency in Raleigh. He also teaches a “Social Media Strategy and Management” class at Wake Technical Community College on the RTP campus.