With the holiday shopping season getting ready to kick into high gear, protecting your information from identity theft is crucial. Online shopping has become much safer over the years, but customer information is still susceptible to hacking and subsequent theft.
So, how can you be sure your online shopping experience won’t result in a drained bank account? :
1. Use Your Credit Card
Credit cards are safer to use online than debit cards because they carry a greater number of consumer protections. Unlike debit cards, credit cards limit your liability because they’re protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act. There’s also less risk involved with using credit because funds aren’t being withdrawn directly from your bank account. It’s certainly possible to resolve stolen debit card information, but you’ll have to deal with the headaches of bounced checks and little to no access to cash while your bank or credit union investigates.
Major credit card companies generally give you 90 days to report unauthorized transactions. Banks may limit the amount of time you have to report identity theft to as little as two days. Because of this, if your information has been stolen, it’s much better to have used a credit card.
When entering credit or debit information online, avoid the temptation to auto-save, even if you’re using a personal computer. Reentering information may not be convenient, but it’s nothing compared to having personal information stolen because you left your laptop at work or your cell phone has gone missing.
2. Use Strong Passwords
One of the first steps in securing your computer or mobile device is to choose strong passwords. A good password is your first line of defense against a hacker, but what makes it a good one? Opinions vary, but strong passwords tend to be at least eight characters long and void of any personal information such as your real name. Mixing up the capitalization, including numbers, and throwing in random symbols helps boost a password’s effectiveness.
Using a different password for each account you set up is also wise, although remembering each one can seem impossible. Consider using a password manager program, or simply write them down to keep in a secure place (such as a lockbox in your home). Never carry written password information with you.
3. Never Shop Online Using a Public Computer
Public computers at internet cafes, libraries, universities, and hotel lobbies are convenient, but they’re the last places you want to be shopping online for holiday gifts. It’s easy to forget not to save any account or password information when you’re browsing the Web, which is the last thing you want to do on a public computer. Even if you choose not to save any login or account information, there’s no way to tell if that computer is secure.
Thieves can install sophisticated software on public computers that lets them track information and record every keystroke, allowing them to steal your information with little effort. More than that, you never know who is looking at the screen over your shoulder. Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense.
4. Use a Virtual Private Network in Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
You’ll also want to avoid shopping over a public Wi-Fi network without protection. Public networks are often unencrypted, meaning that hackers can not only see which web pages you’re visiting but also the information you’re typing into unencrypted web forms. Using Hotspot Shield VPN (Virtual Private Network) will encrypt all your internet traffic, preventing somebody with bad intentions to steal your most valuable information.
Hotspot Shield VPN technology, available for your smartphone (iOS, Android, Windows Phone) and desktop (Windows, Mac), secures all web browsing sessions, protects against malware, hides your IP address, and lets you enjoy anonymous surfing. This allows you to shop online knowing your information is safe no matter where you are. If you don’t have a network security solution installed on your device, avoid entering sensitive data on any public Wi-Fi network.
5. Know How to Spot a Secure Website
Even if you’re shopping at home on a secure network, cyber thieves can still gain access to important data if you’ve entered information into an unsecured website. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to tell if a website is secure: look at the SSL certificate. This is located at the beginning of a website URL. If the site is secure, the SSL certificate will be “https” instead of “http,” and there will also be a green lock icon next to it. Any company that has gone through the extensive validation process will receive this certification, and it will always be displayed at the start of the URL when you’re entering bank or credit card information. The icon should look similar to this .
If you don’t see the green lock icon and “https://” at the beginning of the domain name, avoid entering any sensitive information. In this instance, the site or the company may be fake and the whole thing is a setup designed to lure you into sharing sensitive information. It’s always best to limit your online shopping to reputable merchants you can trust.
A little vigilance and common sense can go a long way in ensuring your holiday shopping goes off without a hitch. Remain mindful of the various ways to keep your information secure so you can be sure to enjoy the season.