Money Health

Protect Your Identity This Holiday Season

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With the holidays comes more opportunity for online scammers to take advantage of online shoppers. While online shopping may seem easy and harmless, cybercriminals can obtain a lot of private information just from a simple online order. Identity theft attempts during the 2017 holiday season increased 22% with 1 out of every 85 transactions being a fraudulent attempt. There are precautions you can put in place before you start your holiday shopping. Here are some tips to keep your identity safe:

Use credit instead of debit

Before you charge a purchase on your debit card, think again. Debit cards allow money to be withdrawn from your account with only a small amount of protection. Credit card companies, however, provide more protection against fraudulent activity. These companies are always on the lookout for any suspicious credit card activity and will most likely be able to catch a fraudulent transaction before you do. If any large amounts of money were charged to your account or a purchase was made in a different country, your credit card company will most likely identify it and notify you via mail, email, or even with a text/call. A smart tip would be to find a credit card company that takes proper cybersecurity measures to keep your card safe from any harm.

Connect to a private network

In advance of your holiday shopping, it’s important to take a deeper look at the Internet connection you’re using to get there. Are you connected to public wi-fi in a cafe? Maybe the Internet you have at work? Or at the airport? If your connection is free and open to the public, it most likely doesn’t have proper security measures in place. That means your sensitive data could be exposed to others that are also connected to the same network as you while you’re shopping online. Not only does this leave your information vulnerable to cybercriminals, but it can put your money in harm’s way in a matter of seconds. For a safer online experience, connect to a virtual private network, which creates a private network from a public Internet connection. While connected to this private network, your IP address will be hidden as well as your devices, browsing activity, and any other private data you’re using. Download a VPN onto all of your mobile devices for extra protection while online shopping this season.

Always check your statements

Instead of ignoring your monthly bank statements, start reading through them, especially around the holidays. Bank statements can be a huge indicator of identity theft. It’s smart to go through, do some math, and make sure everything looks correct. Double check your shipping price, any discounted prices you were promised, even whether or not your coupons worked properly. It’s easy to overlook these items when purchasing gifts. Your statements can also show extra charges that you might not have caught unless you checked your statement. Be vigilant about this during the last couple months of the year and make sure you catch something suspicious before it escalates.

Shop on secure sites only

While browsing websites online before purchasing gifts, look for websites that are secure and safe. If a website’s address bar has an icon of a locked padlock before the URL, it means the website has security measures in place. If the URL starts with “https” then the website is also secure. Be aware of websites that look suspicious. This includes strange formatting, an excess amount of pop up ads, and even extra costs not accounted for during checkout. Always shop with reliable websites who have a strong audience and brand. Reading comments and asking friends about brands/websites can help give you the validation you need to continue with your safe online purchase.

Don’t overshare

Since social media has become such a natural part of our lives, it’s easy to post personal information without thinking twice about it. The social media profiles we make can be more informative to strangers than we think. Exposing pictures of our personal homes, cars, work offices, etc, can leave a digital footprint behind that would be of interest to cybercriminals. Try to avoid including personal information about yourself in online profiles and other social posts. Stay away from posting any financial information, addresses of your home or family members, middle names, and anything else that could be used towards identity theft. Also be careful when posting text chains, emails, and be sure that there is no sensitive information that can be seen in the background (bills, licenses, private numbers, etc.)

Throughout the busy shopping season, put your cybersecurity above anything else. Shopping safely is more important than you think, so take some of these tips and implement them as you participate in a variety of online activities.

John Russo is a Creative Manager at Freedom Financial Network. His goal is to make the world of personal finance more accessible so that everyday people can find the right financial solutions for themselves. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, reading pretty much anything, and spending time with his fiancée and two cats.