The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy and love but the season can turn sour for shoppers as soon as they make their first purchase. Scammers and identity thieves love the holiday season because shoppers tend to let their guards down as they try to nab the perfect presents. There’s also a bigger pool of shoppers to scam, with holiday sales accounting for almost 30% of a company’s annual sales. That’s a lot of purchases for a digital thief to hack into.
To avoid allowing these thieves to steal your personal information, consider buffing up your security habits during this upcoming holiday season. Check out these tips to help keep your sensitive information safe and secure.
Don’t shop on public Wi-Fi
Maybe you’re killing time at the airport, waiting for your flight that’s going to take you to see family for Thanksgiving. You’re absently scrolling on your smartphone and you finally see the perfect Christmas gift for your mom. You excitedly add it to your cart, enter your credit card information, and complete your order only to now remember that you’ve made this entire purchase using the airport’s public Wi-Fi. While you’re certainly not alone in making this type of mistake, 49% of consumers believe that their security habits leave them vulnerable to identity theft or other information frauds, it does put your personal financial information at risk.
When the network you’re using isn’t secure, the personal information you transmit over the Internet and the information stored on your phone can be vulnerable. To protect this information, you can install and use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, on your phone or computer. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, a VPN will direct your online activity through a private and secure network. At the very least, protect your computer and phone with strong passwords before connecting them to public WiFi during the holiday season.
Use cash or credit over debit
The holidays are a popular time for shoppers to stop at the bank and take out cash. Cash is typically the most secure form of payment, as it prevents hacking on your end as well as on the store’s end. Credit cards and debit cards are often interchangeable for shoppers in terms of safety as they are both just pieces of plastic made by some of the one million Americans working in plastics manufacturing. However, these pieces of plastic differ greatly in their security measures.
Credit card companies typically monitor suspicious activity on behalf of their cardholders, offering more protection against fraudulent activity than the banks that run debit cards. Credit card companies are also able to put a stop to fraudulent charges before they go through. With a debit card, a fraudster can immediately withdraw money from your account and can continue doing so unnoticed if you don’t catch the unauthorized activity in time.
Watch what you share online
Consumers often use personal information such as their children’s names or their spouse’s birthday as passcodes and security answers to their accounts and devices. The 78% of Americans who have a social media account of some form tend to share this type of information with their friends and followers without ever thinking that a digital thief could use it to hack them. If you’re not careful about who is on your friends list and what kind of information you’re sharing, you could unknowingly be giving strangers the keys to your accounts. Be wary of posting about your holiday travel plans as well, as this can let them know an opportune time to break into your property.
Only use legitimate sites to shop online
Retailers send out tons of promotions during the holiday season and many online shoppers spend the season searching for the perfect bargains among the hoard of sales. This hunt for the best deal is one of the reasons why scammers will prey on scammers more during the holiday season. Only shop from websites that have “https” in the web address and the icon of a locked padlock to the left of the URL. These indicate the site is secure.
If one of your favorite retailers sends you a promotional email that seems too good to be true, check to make sure that it actually is legit. You may be among the 56% of homeowners planning to buy living room furniture in the next two years and see an unbelievable holiday sale that brings your dream sofa down to an absurdly cheap price. Before you enter your personal information to buy that sofa, double-check the URL. Phishing scams often use an altered link that has one or two letters missing. If a shopper doesn’t look closely, the slightly altered link can trick them into giving their credit card number to a scammer.
As you go about your holiday shopping this year, be mindful of more than just all of the school-age children you need to buy gifts for. Be mindful of your shopping habits and practices. Be extra cautious when entering your PIN in public spaces and only use credit card readers and ATMs that don’t appear to have been tampered with. By taking just a little extra time to protect your sensitive information, you can have a safe and happy holiday season.