How to Protect Your Personal Information this Holiday Season

You’ve spent plenty of time online choosing the perfect gifts for your loved ones. But when it comes time to pay for them, are you putting yourself at risk? The holidays inspire cybercriminals to steal sensitive, personal information and use it to defraud you. They can drain financial accounts, create new accounts, run up charges on credit cards, and use stolen identities to receive fraudulent tax refunds. If you’re doing any online shopping this holiday season, here’s how to protect your personal information.

Don’t be a Digital Mugging Victim

When your personal, private information—like account numbers, full name and address, or passwords—are compromised, it can be like getting mugged online. But if this does happen to you, remember that credit card companies are required to let you dispute charges—so use a credit card instead of a debit card when paying for your online purchases.

And be sure to review your statements after the holidays to look for unfamiliar charges. If you see a charge that looks suspicious, contact your credit card company or bank right away. They will take steps to remedy the situation, which can include reversing fraudulent charges and issuing a new card.

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

  • Don’t shop or bank when you’re connected to unprotected Wi-Fi. This means anywhere you connect to Wi-Fi without entering a password. Unsecured Wi-Fi connections are like bait to a cybercriminal—they can view your transactions to steal your information.
  • Don’t click links or open attachments in emails. This is especially true if you see misspellings or poor grammar in the body of the email. Cybercriminals excel at making phony, dangerous emails look like they are from legitimate companies. If you’re not sure, look up the actual organization and contact them.
  • Use security software. Install security software that protects against malware. You can find free versions that require manual updates (so set reminders to do so regularly) and subscriptions that update automatically and can run on a schedule you set.
  • Shop at familiar online stores. The retailers you are familiar with are sure to be as secure as they possibly can—after all, if they didn’t, they could seriously damage their reputation. If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, check your browser’s URL bar: “https” is secure, and “http” may not be. Also look for the lock icon which denotes a secure site.
  • Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. It’s important to use a unique password for each account, so consider a secure password manager instead of trying to remember many passwords. And, change your passwords regularly. Additionally, if it’s an option, set up multi-factor authentication for your online accounts that requires a security code you receive in a text, an email, or on an authenticator app.

Embrace a Little Bit of Scrooge

You’ll probably see plenty of legitimate holiday greetings from friends and family during the holiday season, along with lots of festive emails from retailers who are looking for your business. But bear in mind that fraudsters take advantage of this knowledge—through email and social media alike. Treat messages from strangers as the spam it is and ignore them—just delete without opening.