During the holiday season, many consumers choose the convenience of doing their shopping online rather than making a trip to brick and mortar retail stores. According to a survey, in both 2021 and 2022, about 57 percent of U.S. consumers shop online during the holiday season.
Although online shopping has its advantages, it can also pose a potential risk for scams, including identity theft. Identity theft is when a cybercriminal takes your personal information (name, birthdate, bank account number, or Social Security number) to commit fraud.
Knowing how to protect yourself is your first line of defense. To help you safeguard your assets during the holiday season, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind.
- Use strong passwords. If you have login accounts with online retailers, make sure to use complex passwords that can’t be easily guessed and use different passwords for each account. This is especially important if you have your credit card information and address saved. Also, enable the security features on your devices to add another layer of protection.
- Use multi-factor authentication. This extra security step confirms your identity using an additional pre-configured authentication method, such as a code emailed to an account or texted to a mobile number, an extra PIN, or a biometric identifier like facial recognition or a fingerprint.
- Be cautious when opening emails. With the numerous promotional emails being sent out during the holidays, it’s easy for cybercriminals to disguise themselves to trick you into giving out personal information. These phishing emails may even include links and attachments containing a virus that can harm your computer.
- Monitor statements. When reviewing credit card and bank statements, watch for unauthorized transactions. Find out from your credit company and financial institution if there’s an option to set up alerts for when suspicious account activity occurs.
- Check your credit report annually. It’s important to review your credit report at least once a year to make sure your credit score wasn’t impacted negatively by fraudulent attempts. Take advantage of getting a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
- Report lost or stolen credit and debit cards. As soon as you realize that your credit or debit card has been lost or stolen, report it to your financial institution. They’ll monitor for any unauthorized purchases and will send you a new card so that you’re protected from possible financial losses.
- Don’t share personal information. Be sure to limit what you share, especially on your social media pages, and do not respond to unsolicited requests asking for personal information.
- Don’t leave your devices unattended. If you walk away from your computer or mobile device and it’s not password protected or someone else managed to figure out your password, the information on that device can get compromised. Always keep your devices locked and make sure that they’re not easily accessible in public.
- Don’t buy from a seller you don’t know. If you don’t know who you’re buying from online, do some research. If you can’t find additional informational and are still feeling unsure about the seller, trust your gut. Also, verify that you’re using websites with encryption to protect your information.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission online here or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. For more information on online safety, visit https://www.usa.gov/online-safety.