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11 ways to protect against holiday hackers

Holiday shopping used to mean driving around packed malls looking for a parking space, then battling the crowds inside. But online shopping changed all that. Now we can shop in our PJs from the couch, fire blazing, sipping our favorite brew. It’s hard to believe that such ease and comfort comes with such big risks. Well, believe.

Cybercriminals are right there, shopping with you, ready to find a way into your internet connections to defraud you or steal personal information that could lead to identity theft.

Don’t let them. Here are some smart, easy ways to protect yourself.

1. Use unique passwords

Use unique passwords for each of your online accounts and change them frequently. If it’s difficult to come up with strong passwords, or to remember them, consider using a password manager tool that can organize, store, protect and even generate your passwords across multiple devices. At the very least, record all passwords in a book and keep it in a safe spot. Those who use the same password for banking, shopping, email, etc. expose themselves to cyber security threats.

2. Check out as guest

When shopping online, avoid creating a saved account on a website and instead check out as a “guest”. If you do open a website account to get the deal/coupon/discount, delete the account ASAP, or do a year end purge and unsubscribe from websites and delete spam emails.

3. Have a shopping email

Have a dedicated email for shopping and other “riskier” behavior so spam does not mix with legitimate communications.

4. Avoid public Wi-Fi

As convenient as public Wi-Fi is, resist the temptation to buy online in a public space unless using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or secured Wi-Fi. While connected via VPN, online transactions are shielded from view by hackers on the Wi-Fi network. A VPN typically requires a subscription and password but is worth the price tag if sharing personal information or making purchases over public Wi-Fi.

5. Pay attention

Do not shop distracted. It could mean being less vigilant, clicking on bogus sites and being less likely to spot sketchy content.

6. Verify the seller

When making a purchase, make sure to vet the reputation of the seller and the authenticity and security of the website. The higher the value, the more time you might want to spend researching. A great way to start is by looking at reviews on sites like the Better Business Bureau, which makes it difficult for people to post phony reviews. Be wary of sites with only positive reviews, or reviews that are actually paid ads.

7. Resist “buy now” ads

Be mindful of online ads that prompt you to “buy now.” Pause and review. Do not fall victim to mindlessly clicking and immediately purchasing because of the urgency and emotion the ad may provoke.

8. Use secure websites

Buy only if the website is secure. Look at the website address in the browser. It should begin with https:// and there should be a padlock icon to the left of the address.

9. Understand your payment options

Use a payment processing tool like PayPal or a credit card – NOT a debit card or online check – to make the purchase. And if you have several credit cards, use the one with the lowest limit. If the website turns out to be fraudulent, or the item isn’t received, the credit card company will investigate and may cancel the charge or limit the cardholder’s liability for it.

10. Check your statements

After the shopping is over, make sure to check your credit card and banking statements. Confirm the purchases and look for unexpected charges. If there is a fraudulent purchase, report it to the credit card company. They will investigate the incident and may issue you a new card depending on the severity of the threat.

11. Consider insurance

Have personal cyber insurance to help you recover should you fall victim to a cyberattack.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be sure to have a happier and more secure holiday season!

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