Updated Dec. 1, 2016
With the holiday shopping season underway, you may be doing more online shopping during the next couple of weeks. High-profile data breaches have shown the vulnerability of our financial and personal information. According to a January 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 18% of adult Internet users have had important information stolen such as their Social Security Number or bank account information. If we see more large-scale data breaches, this percentage is likely to rise. While risk can never be fully eliminated, good online habits can certainly reduce your risk.
Here a few tips to help you safeguard your information:
Protect your devices
You should install anti-virus programs on your computers and smartphones to protect them from threats. Having the latest web browsers and operating systems also helps to protect your device. Use your internet browsers highest level of security that still gives you the functionality you need.
Know your websites when you are shopping
Make sure the web locations you are visiting are legitimate. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to attract Internet traffic and may create imitation websites using company images or logos belonging to popular retailers. When you want to visit a website, type in the website address in your toolbar instead of clicking on a pop-up ad or a link in an unsolicited email. Watch out for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes on the website. These errors are signs the site might not be reputable.
When you begin the checkout process, the website address should be https:/. You may also see the image of a padlock next to the website address. This means that the website is secure and the information you submit is encrypted. Lastly, consider the products being sold on the website. Are they advertising a brand new smartphone for only $20? If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Be cautious when using Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi is becoming more readily available. It’s a nice convenience, but you should be on guard. Unsecured Wi-Fi connections, ones that are not password protected, are more prone to hacking. It’s best not to send personal or financial information over these connections.
Use strong passwords
Never use the word “password” as your password or any other password that anyone could easily guess or find out such as your favorite color or birthday. The longer your password, the harder is to crack. Use a mix of number symbols and special characters to create a strong password.
Some of the most reputable websites use a security technique called “layering” which means that there may be a combination of passwords and images that the user has preselected in order to make the security process more thorough.
Use a credit card to buy online
Use a credit card instead of a debit card for online purchases. Credit cards offer additional protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you have the ability to dispute charges and withhold payment under certain circumstances, while a transaction is under investigation. If someone uses your credit card without your consent, your liability is generally limited to $50.
Some credit card companies offer cards that generate temporary or virtual credit card numbers for online purchases. In the event of a security breach, your real account number stays protected since it is never exposed.
In addition, some credit card companies are beginning to use chip-enabled technology in America. These cards have micro-chips that use encrypted technology, rather than relying on a signature, to increase protection from hacking when you make in-store purchases. They are more secure than traditional cards that use magnetic strips. Contact your credit card provider to find out if these services are available for your account.
Avoid email scams
Use your email carefully. Only open emails from known senders. Some cyber thieves send unsolicited emails, posing as a legitimate company and asking for your personal information. You can be exposed to viruses, malware and other risks by clicking on links in emails or opening attachments.
Here are some examples of scam emails from www.onguardonline.gov:
- “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”
- “During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”
- “Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.”
Never send any personal or financial information via email. Remember that legitimate companies don’t ask for this type of information via email. For more cyber security tips visit, www.onguardonline.gov.
If you think you have been a victim of identity theft or have any consumer-related questions, please contact the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs at 800.593.8222.