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Online Shopping: How To Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Posted December 14, 2017 by Lynn Brown

Online shoppers, take note: when it comes to identity theft, it’s the most dangerous time of the year.

The risk of having a piece of your identity stolen increases during the holidays due to a surge in fake retail websites promising big bargains but requiring confidential information too, credit cards being used more often, and online stores unknowingly being staffed by seasonal or temporary employees who are actually fraudsters.

Over one-third – 41% – of U.S. shoppers completed all or the majority of their holiday shopping online in 2016, according to this blog post. Over three-quarters of them used a desktop or laptop to do their shopping, and 48% used their smart phone or tablet.

The workplace can be impacted by these trends too because people often do their shopping between nine and five (and may use a device used on the job too). An annual shopping survey by CareerBuilder showed that 53% of workers say they spend at least some work time holiday shopping on the Internet.

While an official policy restricting holiday shopping while at work would provide guidelines, it’s really up to individuals to schedule their time to make sure their work is getting done and to help safeguard workplace devices and information.

Here’s how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

  • Install firewalls and virus detection software on all computers, and regularly update and patch them.
  • Use strong passwords (a mix of numbers, symbols and uppercase or lowercase letters), and a different password for bank accounts and other sensitive accounts than for social media accounts.
  • Research websites/retailers to make sure they’re legitimate especially when discounts seem too good to be true. The lock symbol in the browser address bar indicates encryption is used.    
  • Only pay using secure payment methods (unsafe methods include wire transfer, Bitcoin, and money order).
  • Don’t over-share on social media. Travel plans, names, and other facts make it easier for thieves.
  • Use discretion when downloading apps (some companies issue app-approved lists for their employees). Research new apps to see if there are any reported security issues.
  • Use the privacy settings provided by apps and social media sites.
  • Don’t open suspicious e-mails and attachments. Go to the company’s website or call.
  • Do not transmit passwords, payment information, or any other confidential information when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Shop with familiar companies, and watch for phishing schemes disguised as holiday deals. Hover the mouse over links to see where they lead before clicking. If in doubt, delete.
  • Safeguard confidential information off-line too. If volunteering, be weary of providing sensitive personal information and ask about data security practices. At check-outs, don’t reveal too much confidential information out loud, and guard your pin.
  • Be sure someone can accept packages being delivered. Mailing labels and receipts contain personal information too.
  • Check credit card and bank statements often. Promptly report purchases you didn’t make. 
  • Partner with a trustworthy document destruction company for secure destruction of paper documents and hard drives and e-media that are no longer needed.

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