How to thwart data thieves on Cyber Monday

Pressed by holiday obligations, you might find yourself making purchase decisions based on what’s fast, easy and cheap. Enter Cyber Monday: a day when retailers capitalize on that desire for convenience and deals.

Problem is, thieves are capitalizing on it too.

“Many people simply do not understand the risk they are putting themselves in when they sacrifice their security online, and the grave impact identity theft can have on their lives,” says Sandra Bernardo, manager of consumer education at credit bureau Experian. can-you-use-a-debit-card-online

For example, Experian found in a November 2016 survey that 23 percent of consumers would risk becoming an ID-theft victim for a good Cyber Monday deal. And 46 percent say they’re not that concerned about ID theft this holiday season.

That’s a problem because identity theft can impact your financial life and credit for years to come, Bernardo says.

So before you start entering your card information to snap up Cyber Monday deals, read up on how to protect yourself.

Scrutinize too-good-to-be-true offers

Cyber Monday deals can be shockingly good. And those shockingly good deals will inevitably start flooding your inbox as you enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers – especially if you’ve signed up for your favorite retailers’ email lists.

However, “It’s certainly a red flag to receive any email communications from a brand you are not familiar with,” Bernardo says. “As a standard practice you should never open emails from senders that you did not request information from.”

If you do happen to open an email from an unfamiliar retailer and are intrigued by the offer, do some research, says Joe Siegrist, CEO and co-founder of the online password management service LastPass. Look for reviews online, check that retailer’s social media sites and school yourself on its refund and privacy policies.

Even if you’re careful, chasing Cyber Monday deals can quickly become overwhelming. In addition to emails, you may get texts and social media messages, Siegrist says. Links to promised deals may lead to phony websites that thieves have designed to look identical to popular brands’ sites. Brands and thieves alike may also dangle incentives in front of you for downloading an app or creating an online account (and providing personal information, naturally).

When in doubt, cut through the noise: Go directly to the retailer’s site or call them to confirm a deal. And remember this tried and true advice:

“If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Bernardo says.

Reconsider storing credit card information on a shopping site

Allowing a site you frequently use to save your card details and personal information can save you time at checkout when you’re racing to snag deals. But that convenience comes at a risk.

“It’s always best not to keep your card information saved anywhere online,” Bernardo says. “Saving this information gives thieves one more way to potentially access your card information. If you do save any card information, always sign out of your accounts before closing your browser.”

To limit the information a company stores on you, check out as a guest rather than registering as a user, Siegrist recommends. Also, fill out only the required fields, Siegrist says, noting that the less information you provide a website, the less hackers can get their hands on in the event of a data breach.

Double-check the URL

When you switch from browsing for items to the online shopping cart, the beginning of the URL should change from “http” to “https,” Bernardo says. This indicates that the website is secured and the information you enter will be encrypted. LastPass and similar services will warn you before you enter information on a non-secured site, but if you don’t have such a service, get in the habit of checking for the extra “s.”

Be extra wary with Wi-Fi

On Cyber Monday, a deal might pop up in your email when you’re out and about and connected to free public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, store or hotel.

However, you’re using public Wi-Fi, don’t simply pounce on that deal. The connection is not secure, and the card information you enter won’t be encrypted. Plus, hackers can create copy-cat Wi-Fi hotspots and steer you to phony websites.

“Using open Wi-Fi is never a good idea, and an attacker can trick you to think you’re on a well-known site when you’re really not,” Siegrist says.

Adjust your phone’s settings so that it won’t automatically connect to public Wi-Fi networks. Some establishments will have secure networks (that often require a password to log in). If you’re not sure whether the network you’re using is secure, ask.

Or, better yet, “Wait until you get home to online shop,” Bernardo says.

Lock down your mobile devices

Conducting all business on the trusty home PC belongs more to the happy golden days of yore than to our mobile society. Today, comparing deals on a smartphone or tablet and carrying said devices around with you while you’re shopping is commonplace.

But a stolen or misplaced phone can give a thief a lot of information.

Even if all your financial apps are password protected, your social networking apps may not be. And your Facebook profile may be all a thief needs to get your pet’s name, your home town or your mother’s maiden name – common answers to the security questions that unlock your banking accounts.

So set a password for your device. After you’ve set your password, learn how to remotely wipe your device in case of loss or theft. And be on the look-out for lower-tech threats as well.

“If you are out in public, watch for ‘shoulder surfers’ who may be looking over your shoulder when you are inputting personal information,” Bernardo says. “Not all thieves use high tech measures.”

Use a credit card for online shopping

Legally, you can be responsible for all fraudulent charges made on a debit card if you don’t report losses soon enough. Credit cards come with more legal protection (a maximum of $50 in fraudulent charges, according to the Fair Credit Billing Act). The bank providing your debit card may be more lenient, but it’s still safer to use a credit card, as a thief can drain your bank account through your debit card.

However, using your card in-store presents its own unique risks (such as skimming or theft by corrupt employees).

“If you can separate your online versus offline purchases, it’ll give you a little more comfort,” Siegrist says.

However you use your cards on Cyber Monday and throughout the holidays, call your bank immediately if you notice suspicious transactions. Printing out your online receipts can make it easy to compare your statements against purchases, Siegrist says.

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