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10 Tips to Stay Safe and Secure While Holiday Shopping Online
Hillsboro Police Detective Pat Brady discusses online holiday shopping safety tips to help protect your identity from online scammers.
When I was a child you basically had two options to meet your holiday shopping needs. You could head to the mall to buy your gifts, or you could shop from a mail-order catalogue and wait days or even weeks for their arrival. In today’s world this is no longer the case. Now you can shop from home, while in your pajamas and expect delivery in a day. However, with this modern convenience comes a new set of dangers. It'd be tough for fraudsters to create a fake brick-and-mortar Macy’s Department Store, but constructing a fake online marketplace is easy.
During the winter holidays millions of shoppers head online to find bargain presents, so we thought it would be a good time to give you a quick overview in how to shop online safely. These are our top ten tips to stay safe and secure while buying all those holiday gifts.
Before surfing the Internet, secure your personal computer by making sure your Internet security software is up-to-date and active. Everyone’s computer should have malware detection, anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-spam software, as well as a good firewall installed. If you don’t have these things installed or activated, don’t worry it’s easy. Windows users have a pretty robust security and firewall package imbedded in their operating system. You just have to make sure it’s on. Otherwise, you can either purchase a security software package or download a free version from reputable suppliers like AVG or Malwarebytes. Heck, as a Comcast/Xfinity customer, I was provided a full version of Norton’s Internet Security Software by logging on and downloading it from Comcast’s website.
Stay up to date
No operating system or application is perfect. There's always the possibility a coding error could compromise security in some way. Of course, vendors do their best to close these holes, but a security update won't help if you don't install it. Be sure to have Automatic Updates turned on in Windows, and keep other browser-related technologies like Java and Flash updated too.
Secure your network
Chances are good that you've got a wireless home network for all of your laptops, smartphones, game consoles, and other Wi-Fi connectable devices. Unfortunately, that same wireless network could provide an entry point for someone to sneak into your home network, compromise your digital security, and steal your personal data or information. Please take steps to secure your wireless network before doing any online shopping. You need to make sure your security (the things that say WEP, WPA, WPA2, etc.) are turned on. Also, change the pre-installed logon IDs and passwords to something personal and not easily cracked.
Stay at home
Okay, you've got security software installed on all your home computers and other connectible devices, all your software is up-to-date, and your home network is secure. Now, don't waste all that effort by shopping from someone else’s computer or device (like a friend’s laptop or the computer at the library). Also, don’t shop online while connected to an “open” network or network you don't control like at Starbucks while getting your pumpkin spice latte.
Some experts contend that shopping from a mobile device is inherently safer than shopping from a PC or Mac. They point out that popular (and reputable) shopping sites have their own apps, so a criminal looking to compromise your transactions would have to hack each app separately. Best of all, you can put your feet up and relax while you shop (and then go back to crushing candy).
Don't fall for frauds
As we noted in the introduction, it's easy to create a phishing website - a fraudulent online marketplace that’s made to look just like a real shopping or banking site. There are a number of ways to avoid getting fooled by these frauds. Never click a link in an email ad. Just go directly to the site. Look for the padlock symbol on your browser that indicates a secure (HTTPS) connection. If you run across an offer that seems too good to be true, it almost certainly isn't true. Skip it.
Let your browser help
You don't have to rely strictly on your own good sense to detect fraudulent sites. Your browser can help. For Internet Explorer, turn on the SmartScreen filter. "Block reported web forgeries" does the job in Firefox. Chrome users should "Enable phishing and malware protection." In Opera, "Enable Fraud Prevention."
Make Sure You’re Buying from a site with an SSL
A secure socket layer (SSL) is standard security technology common in e-commerce that establishes an encrypted link between a web server and browser. What this basically means is that the personal information you pass along to an online retailer (including your credit card information) isn’t compromised while passing through potentially vulnerable servers. It means that even if the information is intercepted, it won’t be readable unless you have the decryption key.
SSL is indicated by “https://” in the web address (or URL) rather than “http://”. Sometimes, an entire site is protected by an SSL, but you will see with many retailers that the SSL is actually only used within the shopping cart and/or checkout process. As a consumer, that’s the only part of a website you should really be concerned with. An SSL will be indicated by “https://” as well as a lock and the color green signifying the current site is safe.
Don’t Save Personal Details
Just about every shopping site will offer to make your life easier by creating an account, so you don't have to fill in your address, credit card, and such information the next time you visit. Don't do it! The concern being if that shopping site gets hacked then the hackers might obtain all your personal and financial information. Instead, use a password manager that includes automated web form filling or enter the information anew each time you make a purchase.
Clearly you have to give the shopping site your address and billing information, but don't fill in any fields that aren't absolutely necessary. If the site requires that you submit highly sensitive data like your bank account number, empty your cart, wipe the transaction, and shop elsewhere.
Skip the debit card
Credit cards and debit cards look the same, but they’re not. If the merchant ships you faulty merchandise or fails to deliver, a credit card offers protection that you don't get from a debit card. In short, use credit cards not debit cards for online shopping.
Shopping online really is tremendously convenient, and it need not be dangerous to your security or privacy. Just stay alert, remember these tips, and shop safely online.
Keep your personal information private and your password secure. Do not respond to requests to “verify” your password or credit card information unless you initiated the contact. Legitimate businesses will not contact you in this manner.
Beware of “bargains” from companies with whom you are unfamiliar—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Use secure websites for purchases. Look for the icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen or “https://” in the URL address.
Shop with companies you know and trust. Check for background information if you plan to buy from a new or unfamiliar company.