Holiday shopping identity theft

Now that Black Friday has come and gone, are you still shopping for holiday gifts? If you are you are not alone. Most likely you are shopping online more than you did in stores prior to Black Friday and on Black Friday itself. 

In a report shared by Forbes, the statistics of online shopping are impressive: “From Cyber Monday through early December, online sales remain high. However, as Christmas day comes closer, consumers are more likely to go back to stores. Indeed, in the week before Christmas, 73% of U.S. purchases and 87% of EMEA purchases are made in-store.” according to the Holiday Shopping Report put out by Criteo.

Holiday deals are endless online and in-store stock is no longer an issue. With the throngs of people and limited stock removed, the tendency is to go overboard because you never have to hand a cashier your hard-earned money, or a credit card with a high balance on it. Remember, credit decisions made now last much longer than you might think. That said, keep these tips in mind when shopping online.

What should I be aware of when shopping online?

The number one priority when shopping online over the holidays should be the safety of your identity. This is the time of year when online scammers are the most active, preying on your eagerness to find the best deals and score the most impressive presents under the tree.

The scammer will even set up phony websites to steal your information, offering too-good-to-be-true deals to entice you to provide your credit card information. 

Investopedia lends some solid knowledge on where to start to make sure you are protected: “If you don’t have an antivirus program installed on your computer, that is the place to start before you shop and give out sensitive personal information like your credit card number. Internet safety begins at home, so make sure you protect yourself. Several antivirus software packages are available, so check reviews. Your Internet provider may offer a discounted price as part of your service.”

How can I make secure purchases online?

Every website that conducts online transactions should have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. When you view a website’s URL you should see httpS:// at the beginning of the address. This denotes that the website meets the proper criteria and has passed inspection as a safe site to visit, and where you can safely provide credit card information without the risk of your information being stolen.

While cyber-attacks tend to jump mostly around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they remain constant throughout the remainder of the year, according to Experian: “Before making an online purchase, make sure the retailer’s website is secure—otherwise, criminals can more easily get access to your personal data. Security risks are especially high during the holiday season. In 2017, for instance, cyberattacks jumped around Black Friday and Cyber Monday and stayed high into January, including during post-holiday sales, according to research by cybersecurity software provider Carbon Black.”

Holiday shopping ideas
Beware of these common holiday shopping scams

How do you stay safe during the holiday season?

Due to the way your identity and accounts are protected, it is best to only use credit cards and not debit cards when making online purchases. This is because credit card providers have firm structure in place to help you get reimbursed for fraudulent purchases. Your purchases are insured by the FDIC, which provides assistance to creditors in recovering funds when their customers’ identity gets stolen. Credit cards deal in credit only, or in other words borrowed money, while debit cards use your actual bank account funds, so it’s not as simple to reconcile identity and card theft.

If asked to create a password, make sure it is one you can save somewhere for quick reference, and avoid making it something too simple, or the same password that you use everywhere else. Passwords can be another way of stealing your information, and password theft can be much more difficult to track down and reverse.

For example, you provide your password to a fraudulent website as part of what appears to be a routine account setup. Once you enter your password, the website may even carry on as normal, while your password has been stored for later use by the owner of the site. The site owner may attempt to visit banking institutions or shopping sites to attempt using your password to complete purchases, withdraw funds, or assume your identity to establish credit lines. If your credit score is tarnished by this type of theft, here are some helpful tips for recovering.

The second reason your passwords are important is that they can be sold by these scam sites to cybercriminals that may use your information for the above-mentioned activities.

According to USA Today, “A strong password is at least seven characters long, has a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and with some uppercase characters, too. Change passwords routinely. Or use password management apps if you’re worried you won’t remember the password.”

What are the common scams I should avoid?

Gift cards are used in almost every major online scam. Some scammers promise gift cards for pennies on the dollar if you participate in a survey. While some of these are legitimate and essentially paying you for your personal information, others are attempting to steal your identity without ever sending you a gift card. If you see an opportunity to receive a gift card for next to nothing during the holiday season, be very mindful of the questions being asked of you and the safety of the website you are visiting.

Many of these scams will also appear as chainmail on popular social media sites as your friends fall for the scam and receive “rewards” from the scammer for sharing with their friends.

Another form of scamming is websites that only offer gift cards as a payment method. As NerdWallet details: “One red flag to watch out for: When you’re making a purchase on a website or over the phone and the seller takes only gift cards from other retailers — like an iTunes or Google Play gift card — for payment, that’s a sign of trouble.

Paying with a gift card can leave you vulnerable because there’s little protection if a vendor doesn’t hold up its end of the deal. “People should use their credit cards for purchases because they have the most protections,” says Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission.”

If you are attempting to pay with gift cards because you don’t have the funs in your bank account or credit balances to cover it, consider calculating your budget for the holiday season, and start planning now for recovering from debt. This practice will often prevent you from overspending as well.

Am I safe when shopping online outside my home?

Last but certainly not least is the threat of identity theft while connected to public, unencrypted WiFi networks. Places like Starbucks and concert venues offering free WiFi will often have safety measures in place to protect their customers from a cyber identity theft attack, but they are not fool-proof. The best cyber hackers know how to enter these networks to gain access to personal data. Our suggestion is to wait until you are home or on a secured network in order to conduct transactions that require your credit card information. The deal can wait, your identity is far more important. 

If your identity has already been stolen this holiday season, take these steps to recover your credit score and identity as quickly as possible. 

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If you found our blog looking for financial advice or assistance with credit card debt relief or debt consolidation, call Golden Financial Services today at (866)-376-9846 or info@goldenfs.org. You can check out the rest of our blog here, and do your research on our services here. Let’s talk soon!

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