16 Online Shopping Tips to keep you (and your money) Safe This Holiday Season

We’re not able to go a month without hearing about internet hackers getting into a retailer or restaurant chains computer system, and obtaining sensitive personal information from their customers.

With the holidays just about to happen, a lot of of us have Christmas purchases to contend with. That shopping means spending and many consumers fear spending (online) because it could lead to the unscrupulous in society obtaining your personal and financial information (and money!). As technology grows, so does the expertise of hackers in their efforts to steal your data. From hardware (your laptop, a smartphone or a tablet) to software (web browsers, email, etc.), these items are not safe if a hacker intends to get in. Consider implementing the items in the list below for safe shopping this season.

    1. Use a secure internet browser to help safeguard your information. Be certain the browser has the most up-to-date encryption. While no browser is 100% secure (as this article shares), Chrome has the shortest time between updates, and that is the one my husband (a computer nerd) recommends.
    2. Prior To going on an e-commerce website, (or purchasing on one), try to find the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar and “https” in the URL address window to make sure your personal information is secure during transmission.
    3. Check the website’s privacy policy in advance of providing any personal financial information. Determine just how your information will be utilized and if it will be shared with third parties.
    4. Keep your personal info private. Do not divulge telephone numbers, your home address, Social Security number, bank account numbers or email address unless you know who’s collecting the information, the reasons they are collecting it, and just how they will use it.
    5. Study and understand the retailer’s shipping and refund policies before making a purchase.
    6. If at all possible, Pay by credit card. According To US federal law, you will be able to dispute the credit charges if you do not get what you were promised in the transaction. Lots of credit card issuers have “zero liability” policies (Visa, and Mastercard among them) under which you pay nothing if someone steals and then uses your credit card.
    7. Be very careful when buying holiday gifts from an online auction (such as Ebay). Understand how the auction works and check the seller’s profile/reputation prior to bidding on their items.
    8. If it sounds to good to be true (free money, products, travel) – it is. Scam artists take advantage of the cash-strapped consumers during the holiday season more than any other time of the year.
    9. Maintain records of online transactions and check for emails that came from merchants with whom you’re doing business for necessary purchase information.
    10. Review your credit card and bank statements and review for errors or unauthorized purchases. Notify your credit or debit card issuer right away if your credit/debit card or checkbook is stolen or lost.
    11. Modify your passwords. Do not keep the same security password for every application. If your smartphone security password is the same to the ones used by you applications, not only can the hacker get access to your phone, they can find their way into your app’s too.  According to this Cnet report, passwords should be at least 16 characters, and contain a combination of numbers, symbols, lowercase letters, and uppercase letters. (the Cnet article suggests spaces as well, but I have never seen a login that would allow for spaces). You  can test how good your password is, by going to https://www.passwordmonster.com/
    12. Get a credit report/credit report. The Better Business Bureau (LINKY) recommends annualcreditreport.com. You should check your credit rating three times per year at a minimum – beginning, middle and end of the year.
    13. Check your banking statement everyday. If you do online banking, you may want to check several times per day. If you see an unusual financial transaction, let your bank know. Often hackers start taking small, odd amounts like .88 cents. They do this to see how long they can get away with it without you noticing, while your hard earned money dwindles.
    14. Keep your receipt to compare expenses to your bank statement.
    15. Debit vs. credit. I’ve had more than one friend in the financial sector say that when using a debit card, always say “credit”, because if you use it as debit the money is immediately taken from your account. If its credit, you can fight the purchase if there are errors with it.
    16. Do not click on unsolicited emails of any kind, much less those sent buy businesses around the holidays. This is one of the easy ways people get hacked and their information is compromised. Once you open it the email, it can potentially send a worm into your computer, get all your personal contacts, and in turn send them the worm, while sending your information back to the miscreant that launched this email borne virus.

I hope the 16 Online Shopping Tips to protect you and your money this Christmas.

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