As we move into the most frenzied shopping season of the year, scam artists will be on the prowl for vulnerable shoppers. To avoid becoming a victim, consider taking steps now to keep your financial accounts and personal information safe.
1. Skip attachments and hyperlinks. Even attachments from people you know can be nefarious, since those acquaintances could be infected with a computer virus. If the email contains unusual or scant wording, don’t open the attachment. The same logic applies to hyperlinks in emails (or requests for information received over text message). First hover over the link to make sure it’s going to direct you to a valid address.
2. Don’t make purchases over coffee shop lattes. Any public Wi-Fi connection, such as those offered at coffee shops or libraries, carry extra risks, since they aren’t private. Try to avoid shopping online or engaging in any financial transactions, like logging into your bank account, from such hot spots.
3. Protect your smartphone. Web browsers and retailer apps on mobile devices make it easy to shop on the go, but doing so can also expose shoppers to extra risks since many phones don’t have the same kind of data encryption that’s often installed on computers. Even taking a relatively simple step, like enabling the password lock feature on your phone, will make it harder for a thief to access private data stored on the phone in case it’s lost or stolen. The computer security company McAfee also warns against downloading apps that might steal personal information.
4. Don’t trust your “friends.” Hackers target social media, including Facebook and Twitter, because they know it’s easier to get people to click on a link that appears to be recommended from a friend. McAfee has identified dozens of examples, including free dinner offers at Cheesecake Factory and fake mystery shopper invitations. Offers that sound too good to be true, such as free iPads or free iPhones, are also a common lure. The company cautions against clicking on fake alerts from friends, who may have been hacked themselves, and avoiding shortened links on Twitter that claim to offer deals.
5. Open e-cards with caution. They can be cute, but they can also be malicious. McAfee warns that some e-cards download viruses onto your computer when you download them. To avoid that outcome, the company suggests only opening e-cards from domain names that you recognize.
6. Upgrade your passwords. The holiday season can serve as a good reminder to give your passwords a makeover; security experts recommend changing them regularly as a precaution against hackers. Avoid common and simple words, use long combinations of words that also incorporate numbers or symbols, and never use duplicate passwords for multiple accounts. Sites that offer two-step authentication, such as Twitter and Gmail, can also add another layer of protection.
7. Check up on an e-retailer before making purchases. Some fly-by-night operations take advantage of the uptick in shopping around the holiday season to collect cash without ever mailing out the goods in return, warns the Better Business Bureau. The same applies to in-person exchanges on Craigslist or other online sites. To protect yourself, the bureau recommends never wiring money or paying in advance, and bringing a friend to any in-person exchanges.
8. Review your statements. The first sign of identity theft is often an unfamiliar charge on a credit card or bank statement; reviewing those statements carefully and contacting your financial institution or card provider with any concerns can prevent a theft from expanding. Credit cards usually come with some measure of automatic protection, as long as you report the scam relatively quickly.
Following these tips might leave you feeling overly cynical about the world, but the real downer would be dealing with a stolen identity just as the holiday season is heating up.
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Article Source: Kimberly Palmer for US News – Money, Http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/09/16/8-ways-to-protect-your-identity-while-online-shopping
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**Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.