What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself
The holiday shopping season will soon be upon us! You’ve probably already noticed a flood of advertisements in your inbox from retailers hyping this year’s must-have items and almost-too-good-to-be-true sales. While they are gearing up for the mayhem of Black Friday sales, many are also preparing for a digital onslaught: Cyber Monday. Online holiday shopping continues to grow in popularity. According to American Express, for the first time, more people are expected to shop online on Cyber Monday than visit brick and mortar stores on Black Friday. Shoppers are expected to spend nearly $62 billion online this holiday season, up more than 15% from 2012. The use of mobile devices for online shopping (m-Commerce) is projected to reach almost $10 billion for the 2013 holiday season as more consumers are using these devices to compare prices, research products, locate stores, and make purchases to a larger degree than ever before.
Whether you’ll be shopping from your desktop, laptop or mobile device, keep these tips in mind to help protect yourself from identity theft or fraud, and prevent cybercriminals from having a “holiday” at your expense:
• Secure your computer and mobile devices. Be sure your computer and mobile devices are current with all operating system and application software updates. Anti-virus and anti-spyware software should be installed, running, and receiving automatic updates. Ensure you use a strong and unique password, which is not used for any other accounts. Use the automatic timeout feature that locks your device after a period of inactivity.
• Use mobile applications with caution. As devices such as smartphones and tablets continue to gain popularity for online shopping, so too will the volume of attacks against them. Malware could be downloaded onto the device from seemingly legitimate shopping apps that can steal credit card and other sensitive information for transmission to cyber criminals. Update all apps when notified and disable Bluetooth and Near Field Communications (e.g., Android Beam or S-Beam) when not in use to reduce the risk of your data—such as credit card numbers—being intercepted by a nearby device.
• Know your online merchants. Limit online shopping to merchants you know and trust. Only go to sites by directly typing the URL in the address bar. If you are unsure about a merchant, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Confirm the online seller’s contact information in case you have questions or problems.
• Consider using an online payment system or credit card. Where available, you may want to use online payment services which keep your credit card information stored on a secure server, and then let you make purchases online without revealing your credit card details to retailers. If you do pay online directly to the retailer, use a credit, not debit card. Credit cards are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and may reduce your liability if your information is used improperly.
• Look for “https.” Before you submit your online transaction, make sure that the webpage address begins with “https.” The “s” stands for secure, and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted. A padlock or key icon in the browser’s status bar is another indicator. Also, make sure your browser is current and up-to-date.
• Do not respond to pop-ups. When a window pops up promising you cash, bargains, or gift cards in exchange for your response to a survey or other questions, close it by pressing Control + F4 on Windows devices or Command + W for Macs.
• Do not use public computers or public wireless access for your online shopping. Public computers and Wi-Fi hotspots are potentially insecure. Criminals may be intercepting traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other sensitive information. Care should be taken that the settings on your computer or device prevent it from automatically connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots.
• Secure your home Wi-Fi. Make sure you control who has administrative access and that any users on your network authenticate with a strong password. Encryption settings should be enabled and strong – using WPA2 is recommended.
• Be alert for potential charity donation scams. Cyber criminals try to take advantage of people’s generosity during the holiday season and can use fake charity requests as a means to gain access to your information or computer/device. Think before clicking on emails requesting donations. Don’t give your financial or personal information over email or text. Contribute by navigating to the trusted address of the charity, never through a link in an email. To check if an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions, visit the IRS website listed below.
Issues with online retailers can often be resolved quickly by contacting them directly (e.g., via a toll-free phone number or customer service webpage); however, if a retailer fails to respond to your issue, you can also contact the following organizations for assistance:
• Florida Office of the Attorney General, Pam Bondi:
• Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:
• The Better Business Bureau
• The Federal Trade Commission
For additional information about safe online shopping, please visit the following sites:
• Secure Florida
• Internal Revenue Service
• Internet Crime Complaint Center
• OnGuard Online
• Privacy Rights Clearinghouse