No matter how people choose to celebrate the holiday season, they often spend money and, increasingly, they spend it online. In 2019, e-commerce retail spending for the holidays totaled $135.35 billion. Despite COVID-19 and the recession (and perhaps because people don’t feel as safe shopping at brick-and-mortar stores), online sales are expected to rise 18 percent by the end of 2020.
After the year we have experienced, the last thing you want during this especially-needed time of joy, peace, and giving, is for your credit card number or personal information to be stolen. Protect yourself from cybercriminals looking to grinch up your holidays with these tips:
‘Tis the season to be cautious
Forty-three percent of holiday shopping identity theft occurs online — a number that may rise as more shoppers click for purchases instead of paying in person. Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) is especially risky because cybercriminals know that people are on their computers and phones looking for deals.
Moreover, the bad guys are sending convincing-looking phishing emails notifying you that your Amazon or Netflix account has been suspended and requesting that you click a link to re-enter your credit card number. Or you might receive a robocall stating the same thing, asking for personal or credit card info.
Cybercriminals know how important holiday shopping is and they’re fooling smart people who just want to buy presents for their family and friends.
Protect yourself while shopping online
Shopping online during the holidays is convenient, cost-efficient, and in 2020, safer for your health. These precautions, which include setting up credit fraud alerts, will help protect your identity and your money as the year winds down:
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. Debit cards are tied to your bank account. If someone gets ahold of your card credentials and makes a fraudulent purchase, the money is gone once it leaves your account. With a credit card, however, funds aren’t drawn from your checking account. Furthermore, most credit card networks, such as Visa and MasterCard, offer zero-liability fraud protection so that you likely won’t be on the hook if someone uses your card illegally. Just remember to set a budget to avoid overspending with your credit card, and have a plan to pay off balances quickly to prevent interest from piling up.
- Choose strong passwords. Strong passwords help protect against fraud. Take added precautions with online shopping sites by using complex passwords with letters, numbers, and special characters so they are harder to guess. And don’t use the same password on shopping sites that you would use for your bank logins. Also, consider using two-factor authentication if it’s available. This requires you to verify your identity using a code sent to your smartphone or email. This extra step may seem inconvenient at times but you’ll thank yourself when it protects you from fraud.
Monitor account activity. If you are worried about fraud, monitor your accounts regularly. You can watch for unauthorized purchases through your financial institution's online or mobile banking platforms. Also, set up account alerts and fraud text alerts so you receive notifications of activity
Put a security freeze on your account. If you want an added layer of protection, consider putting a security freeze on your credit reports through Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Once the freezes are in place, no one can access your credit history or open accounts without your authorization. Although freezing your reports is free for all three credit bureaus, you must do so individually with each one. With online and phone options, unfreezing your credit is mostly painless, so if you want to open a new credit card account during the holidays, you won’t need to wait days.
Avoid online or telephone scams. Beware of email and telephone scams that try to trick you into providing your information. Besides the fake Amazon messages going around, one common scam involves emails or texts alerting you that you missed a package delivery or that a delivery service, such as UPS or FedEx, needs more information to complete a delivery. These types of scams often appear legitimate. When in doubt, contact the service provider directly to verify the message. Never click on links embedded in emails or texts — just delete the messages or report them as junk.
Set up credit fraud alerts. Your financial institution likely provides tools that can help protect you online. 1st United Credit Union offers a variety of fraud protection services including account and fraud text alerts, credit card purchase alerts, and identity theft protection. Take advantage of these services because being proactive is your best defense against fraud.
The holidays are crazy enough without worrying that someone is running up charges in your name or emptying your bank account. Stay smart and safe with your online purchases so you can focus on what’s most important this time of year: enjoying the holidays with your loved ones.