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It’s holiday shopping time.  If you are like the majority of Americans, you will do at least some of it online. According to study conducted by the company BigCommerce, 96% of Americans have made an online purchase at some point in their lives, and a full 51% of us prefer online shopping over in-store.
With this much electronic money moving around, it’s not surprising that the bad actors want a chunk of it. The FBI Internet Crime Report said that in 2017, online victim losses due to fraud was over $1.4 billion. Here are some things you can do to avoid becoming another victim of online theft.

Watch your payment method!

When shopping online, if at all possible, do not use a debit card. Debit cards offer much less protection against fraud than other payment methods. Your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a debit card can exceed $500. Credit cards offer better protection against fraud.  The most you can get taken for by fraud when using a credit card is $50. Just remember to pay off your credit card bill at the end of the month, and you’re good!

PayPal is another great option for secure online purchases. When you set up a PayPal account, you securely link your bank, debit or credit card information to the account. Then, when you shop online and use PayPal to pay for the purchase, PayPal acts as the intermediary and the recipient never receives your sensitive financial information.

Another payment method that is relatively safe from fraud is a pre-paid or gift card, such as those offered at White Sands FCU. A pre-paid card allows you to reload additional funds on the card, as many times as you like. Gift cards are for a set amount, and once spent, you toss it. Because neither are tied to you or any of your personal data, the most you lose if the card data is stolen is the balance left on the card. The downside to pre-paid cards is that they aren’t free, and have a host of terms and conditions – so read them well.

Trusted and secure shopping sites only

Always, always, shop at secure sites.  Look for sites with “https” at the beginning of the web address (URL), as opposed to those that begin with “http”, which are not secure. The “S” at the end of “https” stands for “secure” and it means that communication between your browser and the website is encrypted. You can also look for a little padlock symbol just before the URL in your browser.

Also, stick to well-known sites and brands. Everyone knows about Amazon, but all major retailers have online stores that can be trusted – think Walmart, Target, Macys and the like. If you have to purchase something from a site that you’ve not heard of, do a little investigating. Is there a way to call the store? Do they have a physical address? If you cannot find and verify such information, be suspicious!

Long and strong password

When setting up an account at an online store, make sure you use a long, complicated password.  Use a unique password for each store. The best passwords have a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols and are at least seven characters long. If offered, use multifactor authentication to make your login credentials even harder to hack. Too many passwords to keep track of? Use a password manager like LastPass, KeyPass or LogMeOnce.

Skip the public Wi-Fi

The corner café or airport isn’t the best place to do your online shopping. Even though they offer Wi-Fi to connect you to the internet, the connection is never secure. Hackers love these kinds of locations because it is easy for them to get between your devise and the connection hotspot. In effect, if your connection is intercepted, you are sending your information to the hacker first, who then sends it on to the legitimate source. The hacker has direct access to everything you send – emails, credit card data, security credentials.

Keep your private information private

If a site asks for information unrelated to the purchase, it should raise a red flag. The only information you should ever need to give to an online retailer is your name and address, phone, email, and your payment information. No store needs your social security number, your date of birth, bank account information or driver’s license number. If they ask for it, leave the page immediately.

Check your statements often

If you are using a credit card or (gasp) a debit card, check your statement more often than once a month.  Look for charges or debits you don’t recognize. If you find any that you did not make, immediately bring them to the attention of your financial institution. You can also track your purchase activity if using PayPal. Prepaid and gift cards will only give you your balance.

The bottom line is be on alert when shopping online.  Use common sense and pay attention.  If something seems fishy or too good to be true, it probably is and you should back away and shop somewhere else.  Safe and happy holidays!