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Holiday online shopping safety tips: 8 ways to stay secure

What we'll cover

  • How to buy gifts with purpose

  • How to keep your devices safe while online shopping

  • Best practices while online shopping

Shopping online has a lot of perks. It’s certainly more convenient than heading out in a snowstorm or standing in long lines to get your holiday gifts. And it allows you to compare products and prices from different retailers more easily than you could at the mall.

You can also find some great deals online during the holiday season, but sometimes it’s not quite clear how to ensure you’re safely snagging them. As you head to your favorite sites, use these tips to help keep your personal information safe while you shop.

Shop from reputable retailers on secure sites

We get it: You’re hoping to land the deal of the century this season. But no discount is worth it if it means you’ll be a victim of identity theft in the process.

Stay safe while online shopping by only making purchases from sites that encrypt your data using SSL certificates and require two-step authentication. Only enter payment information on a webpage whose URL starts with HTTPS. (This indicates it has SSL protection.)

You should also look for a trust seal (or lock symbol) with the words secure or verified, which means that the site is protected by a security firm. If the site doesn’t have these, click to close and find yourself another retailer.

These protections can’t guarantee your safety, but they can drastically reduce the risk of hackers nabbing your personal information.

Tip: Download your favorite retailers’ verified apps from Google Play® or the Apple App Store®. They’re much less likely to be compromised. You could also consider checking out as a guest to keep your sensitive information even more secure.

You should also look for a trust seal (or lock symbol) with the words “secure” or “verified,” which means that the site is protected by a security firm.

Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals

We all love a good bargain and finding solid discounts can help you save during the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, door-buster deals, especially those listed on marketplace sites, are one of the ways cybercriminals trick shoppers into giving up financial information. So, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid falling victim to these phishing scams by only shopping on reputable sites (see the point above) and  reporting any suspicious messages  you receive either via text, email or push notifications.

Don't click on links in suspicious emails or messages

‘Tis the season to be jolly … and to be the recipient of lots of emails and text messages promising you unbelievable discounts. While many of these communications are likely legit, be sure to keep an eye out for scam artists. Don’t click on any links from suspicious or unknown sources, which can allow cybercriminals to sneak into your inbox. And if you receive a  sketchy-looking message , be sure to report it immediately.

Update your software

The shopping you do online is only as safe as the device you’re using. Be sure your security software, internet browser and operating system on your phone or computer are all up to date. Hackers look for weaknesses to exploit, so head them off by keeping your device’s security software current.

Tip: Ensure your credit card contact information is up to date and consider setting up alerts to notify you of any charges that hit your account, or when charges meet a specific criterion.

Create strong passwords

Security experts have lots of tips for creating a strong password, but the more nonsensical it is, the better. That’s because some cybercriminals use programs that can crack simple tricks, like replacing letters with similar-looking numbers.

Tip: Build a better — and more secure — password with these best practices.

  • Combine a seemingly unrelated person, an action and an object

  • Use at least eight characters — the more, the better

  • Mix both uppercase and lowercase letters

  • Mix letters and numbers

  • Include at least one special character (!@#?)

Check credit card statements regularly

The convenience of paying with a credit card can be irresistible, especially with all the extra expenses this time of year. As long as you’re able to make your payments, there’s nothing wrong with charging your holiday list. However, make sure you keep a close eye on your statements.

Why? If your financial information is stolen and someone makes a charge on your card, you can spot it early on. Your bank may flag suspicious activity as well, but tracking your transactions can ensure nothing slips by. Bonus: It can also help you stay mindful of your spending and stay on budget.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi

We’ve all snuck in some online shopping while on the bus or at the coffee shop. It’s hard to pass up on the convenience, especially during this busy time of the year. There’s nothing wrong with shopping on the go, but one word of caution — refrain from using public Wi-Fi when making purchases online.

While encryption has improved safety drastically in recent years, some municipal and corporate Wi-Fi networks are open (meaning you don’t need a password to access them), leaving them vulnerable to hackers. So, if you’re shopping while at a restaurant, the airport, a hotel or any other public setting, use your mobile data plan instead.

Tip: Watch out for shoulder surfers. Being aware of your surroundings is a good safety tip in general, but when it comes time to enter your credit card info, you want to make sure no one is peeking over your shoulder and taking notes. If you can’t be certain, wait until you make it home. Better safe than sorry.

Use secure payment methods

Sometimes it feels like there’s a new, more convenient, more modern way to pay every day. While most credit cards have security checks to quickly identify and stop fraudulent activity, you may be more comfortable using a mobile payment option like Zelle® or PayPal®. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s from a trusted source, you verify all information before making any payments, and it has the necessary safeguards in place to protect you and your financial information.

Keep your holiday holly, jolly and secure

As you start charting your end-of-the-year plans and mapping out all of your merry moments with family and friends, it’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of the season. Stay vigilant so you can spread all of the cheer without setting yourself up for a security breach. Wishing you and yours a holiday season full of joy and peace of mind.

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