The holidays are here, and shopping online is a convenient, time-saving way to buy gifts for family members and friends. It can also present serious hazards. Cyber criminals are ready to steal your credit card and other information whenever you let down your guard.
“It you aren’t prepared and cautious, you could become the next cyber crime victim,” warns State Chief Information Security Officer Mark Reardon.
To ensure your online shopping is safe and secure, follow these tips from Mr. Reardon and the Center for Internet Security.
- Secure your mobile device and computer. Keep operating systems and application software updated and patched. Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware software is running and receiving automatic updates. Enable your firewall.
- Use strong passwords. If you need to create an account with a merchant, use a strong password. Always use more than 10 characters and include numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Use a unique password for every unique site.
- Do not use public computers or public wireless networks for your online shopping. Public computers may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you place your order. Criminals may be intercepting traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other confidential information.
- Pay by credit card, not debit card. Credit cards are covered by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which may limit your liability if your information is used improperly. Check your statements regularly.
- Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. 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.
- Look for “https” when making an online purchase. The “s” in “https” stands for “secure” and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted.
- Do not respond to pop-ups. 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 for Windows and Command + W for Macs.
- Do not click on links or open attachments in emails from financial institutions and vendors. Be cautious about all emails you receive, even those from legitimate organizations and your favorite retailers. The emails could be spoofed and contain malware. Instead, contact the source directly.
- Do not auto-save your personal information. When purchasing online, you may be given the option to save your personal information online for future use. The convenience of not having to re-enter your information is insignificant compared to the significant amount of time you’ll spend trying to repair the loss of your stolen personal information.
- Don’t ever give your financial or personal information by email or text. Information on many current scams can be found on the Internet Crime Complaint Center website at www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
- Review privacy policies. Know what information the merchant is collecting about you, how it will be stored, how it will be used and if it will be shared with others.
What should you do if you have problems with an online shopping site?
Contact the seller or the site operator directly to resolve any issues. If necessary, you may also contact:
Georgia’s Attorney General: http://law.ga.gov
Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs: http://consumer.georgia.gov
Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org
Federal Trade Commission: www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov