The holiday season is here, which means many Americans will start shopping for gifts online. But e-commerce is not without its own risks. In 2022, the FBI reported there were more than 800,000 filed complaints of cybercrime resulting in more than $10 billion in losses.
“The dangers associated with online shopping during the holidays are very real,” said Dan Flynn, managing director of branch operations, AAA East Central. “Fortunately, if consumers remain diligent and take extra steps to stay safe, they can cybershop this season with confidence.”
Tips for Secure Online Shopping:
Use a credit card, not a debit card. A debit card is a direct line to cash. If hackers gain access to a debit card, they can swiftly empty bank accounts. Depending on when the crime is discovered and reported, cardholders could be liable for $500 or more of the stolen funds. Fraudulent credit card charges, on the other hand, incur less liability. They’ll typically be refunded in full.
Shield all financial data. Don’t let your browser or an e-commerce site save credit card information. While it may be annoying to re-enter payment details at every purchase, that extra work offers card protection if the site—or personal computer—is ever breached. If possible, use a single credit card for all online purchases to make it easier to monitor for unauthorized charges. Whether shopping or just surfing online, always use basic internet safety guidelines, including securing passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, updating software and engaging with the privacy settings on social media channels.
Be cautious of public Wi-Fi. Avoid public Wi-Fi when spending money or entering personal information online. Cybercrooks can easily intercept transactions to snag credit card numbers, bank account passwords and other sensitive information. If using public Wi-Fi is unavoidable – at an airport, hotel, library, or café – make sure data are encrypted by using a virtual private network (VPN).
Beware of fake apps. Counterfeit apps try to mimic the real thing to steal financial information or install malware onto devices, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Get apps directly from the company’s website or, if downloading from an app store, read the reviews and confirm the app is legitimate before downloading. If anything seems questionable, such as spelling errors or a strange looking logo, avoid the app.
Check online statements. Every week during the holiday-shopping season, review credit card and bank statements to look for suspicious activity. Even an unknown charge for a nominal amount should be noted, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Cybercriminals in possession of credit card numbers often start by making tiny purchases to see if anyone’s paying attention. If any unrecognized charges are noted, inform bank or credit card companies immediately to dispute them. The issuer likely will refund the amount in question, temporarily freeze an account or cancel the current card and issue a new one.
Avoid getting pharmed out. Pharming is a form of fraud in which consumers are automatically redirected, without consent, from a legitimate site to a bogus site that exists solely to steal personal information. To avoid this scam, make sure the URL in question is secure, which always starts with “https” instead of “http,” before entering payment info. The “s” in “https” stands for “secure.” Also, avoid sketchy-looking vendors – those with spelling errors, strange fonts or images that don’t look right.
Protect against identity theft. Every two seconds, someone is a victim of identity theft. Information including name, date of birth, social security number or driver’s license number can be used to commit fraud. To minimize the risk of identity theft, don’t share personal information, create strong passwords with two-factor authentication, keep social media profiles private, and set up credit card and financial alerts. AAA members can help protect family members’ identities by enrolling in ProtectMyID. More information can be found at AAA.com/IDTheft.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 69 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members. News releases are available at news.eastcentral.aaa.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.