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Stay Safe When Shopping for Holiday Gifts Online

Maria Contreras Marketing Manager, Consumers Credit Union
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For the first time ever, more than half of all Americans are planning on doing at least some of their holiday shopping online. If you are among that group, planning to avoid the long lines and large crowds by buying online, you’ll want to make sure you’re shopping securely.

Before using your plastic, follow these tips and you can take advantage of the convenience of online shopping while also protecting yourself from online fraud.

Look for the padlock symbol

Don’t “check out” at a website unless you see a padlock symbol on the browser bar of whatever device you’re using. This symbol means that the page has extra security to prevent others from viewing your sensitive information.

Another way to tell a website is secure is that the web site URL (the link in the browser bar) starts with “https” instead of just “http.” The “s” means the site is secure.

Be cautious around public Wi-Fi

As a convenience to customers, public Wi-Fi can be found in popular public places like airports, coffee shops, malls, restaurants, and hotels and allows you to access the Internet for free.

Although it sounds harmless to log on and check your social media account, read e-mails, or check your bank account, it’s risky on public Wi-Fi. You can’t be sure who’s able to see your data on the network, including your private information.

Instead, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, a service that lets you encrypt the information you send over the internet. That way, others won’t be able to access your data even if they can access the network. You can also send data over your personal cellular provider’s network, which bypasses Wi-Fi.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card

Credit cards offer better consumer protections than debit cards do. If someone steals your credit card information and uses it to make unauthorized purchases, you’ll be liable for $50 at most, depending on how quickly you report the loss.  If your debit card information is stolen, you could lose all the money linked to your checking account.

If you’re unhappy with an item you bought on a credit card, for example if it was damaged when you received it or it was never delivered, you don’t have to pay until the dispute is resolved. But if you’re unhappy with a debit card purchase, you’ll need to file a dispute with the retailer and possibly the Credit Union to try to recover the money after the fact. That’s because debit card purchases automatically withdraw funds from your bank account.

Change passwords regularly

Even if you take steps to shop securely, a hacker could steal your username, password or other sensitive information from a retailer’s database. Protect yourself by changing the passwords of your online accounts every three months or so. That way, if hackers do breach a retailer’s software, there’s a good chance they’ll have access only to an old password.

Update anti-virus software

If you shop from a home computer, keep your security software updated. Anti-virus software companies frequently release security updates to address newly discovered security loopholes.

If you're not sure about a website, or have any suspicions at all, don't go ahead with the transaction. A well-constructed website isn't always a sign that it's legitimate, and if an offer looks too good to be true, it could be a scam.

Use multiple, strong passwords

Never use the same password for multiple online accounts. Set different passwords for different web sites. Use long passwords. The longer the better. Think of passwords as passphrases. Rather than one word make your password out of a few words, even a short sentence. For example, instead of “Christmas2017” for a password, using “All I Want for Christmas 2017” is much more difficult for a hacker to crack.