12/18/19 | BYPOR Jane Reuter

Keep the holidays joyful with safe online shopping

Just as pickpockets know dense crowds make for easy targets, cyber criminals are drawn to the online throngs gathered for the holiday shopping rush.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts total holiday spending to reach a merry $50.9 billion this year. A big portion of this is happening online. Of the nearly 87 million consumers shopping on Black Friday, 42 percent were doing it virtually, with each person spending an average of about $160. Given the average person expects to spend about $800 this holiday season, online shopping carts can expect a workout.

Holiday shoppers are driven to the internet by the prospect of a great deal, and the ease of online comparison shopping. Even those who don’t shop online told NRF survey takers they’ll use the internet to research items before heading to the stores.

Cyber criminals are keenly aware of the dramatic uptick in internet traffic, and they step up their game to take advantage of it.

When holiday shopping online, here are a few handy tips to follow:

  • Remember the advice your mother gave you: If something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of pop-ups promising unheard-of discounts and messages urging you to link to an unfamiliar site.

  • Make sure the site is legitimate, even if it looks like it is.

Hackers have become sophisticated copycats. So check the address bar for a closed padlock and/or a URL address that begins with “https.” The “s” indicates that the site is secure. Avoid clicking on links posted on social networking sites. Type the address into your browser.

  • Make your purchases with a credit card.

Avoid using a debit card. Credit cards often offer greater buying protection, such as allowing you to seek credit if the product isn’t delivered or doesn’t match the order. Credit cards also often include a limit on the amount you’re responsible for paying if there’s a problem.

  • Set a different password for online purchases than for online banking.

If there’s a retail security issue, a cybercriminal can’t gain access to your finances as well.

  • Limit the information you give.

Only fill out required fields when ordering online. If a requested field sounds unnecessary, give the site another review and reconsider the purchase. Legitimate sites only seek legitimate information. Check the site’s privacy policy to ensure you won’t start getting unwelcome solicitations.

  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi for online shopping.
  • Check your credit card and bank statements regularly.

If you’re not already doing so, check your online bank statement daily. Review your debits and credits and make sure they’re all yours. Cybercriminals often start tapping a consumer’s account with a fishing (or “phishing”) expedition: making a small online purchase and waiting to see if it’s noticed. If a small transaction flies under the account holder’s radar, they’ll move on to bigger purchases. Report discrepancies to your bank immediately.

  • If you haven’t already done so, secure your computer with firewall and antivirus software.
  • Save records.

Keep online receipts, and copies of email exchanges with any seller. These can come in handy later if there’s a problem.

Shopping online for the holidays can be a great convenience that yields plenty of deals. Keeping these few security tips in mind as you shop can help prevent your Santa from turning into a Grinch this holiday season.