The holidays are right around the corner, and that means food, fun, gatherings with loved ones, and quite a bit of shopping.
Despite supply chain challenges, online retail this holiday season is expected to top $200 Billion for the first time. According to the 2021 Adobe Holiday Shopping Forecast, “Holiday e-commerce sales are projected to reach a record $207 billion in the U.S. between November and December, a 10 percent increase over 2020 sales. Additionally, holiday e-commerce sales are projected to hit $910 billion globally, an 11 percent year-over-year increase.”
While shopping for the perfect gift from the comfort of your home can reduce holiday stress, it can also bring unintended results. With the increase in online shopping, identity theft, malware, and other cyber unpleasantness is also on the rise. Rather than letting it ruin your holiday season, taking a few simple cyber security precautions will help reduce your chances of being a cyber victim.
Keep these 10 safety tips in mind to help minimize your risk when shopping online this holiday season and all year through:
Do not use public computers or public wireless Internet access for your online shopping.
Public computers and wireless networks may contain viruses and other malware that steal your information, which can lead to identity theft and financial fraud. Make sure you use a secure network when making online purchases.
Update your computer and mobile devices prior to online shopping.
Be sure to keep the operating system, software, and applications updated on all your computers and mobile devices. Use up-to-date antivirus protection and automate updates to protect your systems from cyber threats when shopping online.
Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts.
The use of strong, unique passwords is one of the simplest and most important steps to take in securing your devices, computers, and online accounts. If you need to create an account with a merchant, be sure to use a strong, unique password. Always use more than six to eight characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper- and lower-case letters. Use a unique password for every site.
Be selective with online shopping retailers.
Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. Don’t just assume since you saw an advertisement on Instagram or Facebook it is a legitimate company. If you have questions about a merchant, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. Do not create an online account with a merchant you do not trust.
Pay for all online purchases with only one credit card.
A safer way to shop online is to pay with a credit card rather than debit card or PayPal. Debit cards do not have the same consumer protections as credit cards. PayPal has limited return rights and refund protection. Credit cards are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and can limit your liability if your information was stolen or used improperly. By relegating all online purchases to one credit card with a lower balance, you also limit the potential for financial fraud across your accounts. Always check your statements regularly and carefully. Some credit cards also allow you to set up notifications for purchases over a certain dollar amount.
Look for "https" in the Internet address (URL) when making an online purchase.
The "s" in "https" stands for "secure" and indicates that your communication with the webpage is encrypted. This helps to ensure your information is transmitted safely to the merchant and no one can spy on it. Alternatively, look for the lock symbol (it is sometimes green) in the Internet address bar.
Do not respond to pop-ups when shopping online.
When a window pops up promising you cash or gift cards for answering a question or taking a survey, close it by pressing Control + F4 on a Windows computer or Command + W on a Mac. These could be social engineering attempts designed to convince you to open malware or click on a malicious link.
Do not auto-save your personal information on online accounts.
When purchasing online, you may be given the option to save your personal information for future use. Consider if the convenience is worth the added risk. The time needed to reenter the information is insignificant compared to the significant amount of time you will spend trying to repair the loss of your stolen personal information.
Use common sense to avoid scams when holiday shopping online.
Never give out your personal or financial information via email or text. Avoid clicking on any texts that look like they are coming from your banking, utilities, or shopping merchants. Information on current scams can be found at the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.
Review privacy policies for online retailers.
Taking a commonsense approach with these safety tips will help you stay cyber-secure while spreading your holiday cheer.
Safe shopping and Happy Holidays!
Editors note: This post was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and additional information.