By: Emma Kavanagh
‘Tis the season for sitting behind a computer and letting your fingers do the walking to find presents for family and friends near and far. After all, it’s much easier to click your way to the end of a shopping list than to run from store to store to find just the right gifts to put under the tree.
While the Internet has made holiday shopping a breeze, it’s also made stealing rather easy for tech-savvy criminals. With so many people rushing to take advantage of the latest cyber deals, security is often an afterthought.
It shouldn’t be.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates identity theft cost Americans a whopping $1.52 billion in 2011 alone. While that number includes other forms of identity theft, the Internet is fast becoming a favorite target for those who would swipe personal information, including Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers and more for their own personal gain. Once the bad guys have these numbers, they can use them to drain bank accounts, rack up credit card charges and even open accounts only they have access to. In some cases, numbers are sold to others, so tracking down the crooks becomes an even trickier proposition.
So, what should consumers do? Should they forego those awesome online sales in favor of in-person, cash purchases? Not necessarily. There are steps people can take to safeguard themselves while they shop the day away online.
Protecting Your Online Shopping Experience
Here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping online this holiday season (or at any other time):
- Access retailers’ website directly: While it’s tempting to click on that email ad for a great deal on the latest electronic device, refrain from doing so. Yes, the big retailers do send out a lot of emails during the holidays, trying to entice consumers to buy. So, too, do the bad guys. Avoid phishing schemes all together by only landing on a retailer’s website by going there directly. Once you’re there, you can look up the sale.
- Check site security before you buy: There’s no reason to avoid Mom and Pop stores that offer products for sale via the Internet in favor of the Big Box locations. That said, security measures should be a concern no matter where an online purchase is made. Make sure the retailer uses encryption and check for a secured connection on the transaction page. Typically, web browsers will show secure connects by offering a lock symbol in the URL. The URL, by the way, should start with an “https” rather than an “http” designation. If you’re unsure about security offered, read the site’s fine print. If security measures are still unclear, refrain from making the purchase online.
- Consider using a designated card for online purchases: Rather than use a bank debit card, for example, that might give the bad guys access to your saved mortgage money, grocery budget and other living expenses, consider using a set credit card or prepaid card for all your online purchases. While this won’t guarantee theft won’t occur, it can help safeguard needed finances in the event the worst does happen.
- Don’t share more than you have to: When making online purchases, especially at unknown retail outlets, don’t give out more personal information than is absolutely necessary. For example, a retail store doesn’t need to know your Social Security number to complete a transaction.
- Be wary: Be very wary of online deals that seem too good to be true. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t share your personal information and don’t make the purchase.
Going online is a great way to knock out a holiday shopping list in no time at all. Take a few moments, however, to consider safety or the bad guys might just have a very happy holiday season.