Another holiday season is here, bringing new ways for cyber-thieves to attempt to steal your money or your identity. The FBI and other experts offer ways you can guard yourself against identity theft by following safe practices when shopping online.
- Have up-to-date virus protection on your computer that also scans for malware.
- Before you enter credit card information at a retailer’s website, check to make sure that the website is secure. A secure website normally has “https” in its URL and a lock icon next to the URL address.
- Consider designating a credit card account – or purchasing a reloadable prepaid card – exclusively for online or holiday shopping, and leave the rest of your credit cards at home. That way, if a thief does get your credit card or credit card number, the loss will be minimized. Avoid using your debit card, which may not offer the same kind of theft/loss protection.
- Ask your credit card issuer if it offers “virtual credit cards,” or single-use card numbers, that can be used at an online store. Virtual credit cards generate a random account number in place of your actual credit card number. You can configure the expiration date and the maximum amount allowed for a virtual credit card. Once used, the card typically is tied to the merchant where it was used and cannot be used elsewhere.
- Create a good password. The National Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers tips on creating a hacker-proof password.
- If you buy something at an auction site or via an online classified ad, keep your personal information secure by paying with a third-party service like Google checkout or PayPal.
- Purchase gift cards directly from retailers or merchants. Gift cards from auction sites or classified ads could be fraudulent or stolen.
- Never follow a link in an email unless you know and trust the sender. Instead of using the link, enter the web address of the retailer, bank or credit card issuer yourself.
- Only open email attachments if you know the sender, and scan them for viruses if you can. Attachments can contain viruses.
- Be wary of anyone soliciting donations by phone, especially if they claim there is an emergency or deadline for donations. If you are suspicious, ask them to mail you a donation form, or hang up and call the charity directly.
- Do not give personal information to anyone who calls you claiming to be your bank or financial institution. Hang up and call the bank directly.
There’s always a lot to be done during the holidays. By exercising some care and common sense, you can ensure that you’re not spending valuable time dealing with identity theft.
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