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Eleven security tips for safe online holiday shopping

Shopping online is so convenient. This is particularly true for the holidays as you can avoid holiday crowds and usually get really good deals. Even better- many sites offer gift wrapping and free shipping which is perfect for those out of town friends and relatives. However, the volume of online shopping during the holidays also leads to increased security concerns as cybercriminals use this time to ramp up their efforts. Here are 10 tips you can use to ensure you have a safe shopping experience this holiday season.

1.Make your passwords secure- Anytime you create a password, make sure it has at least eight characters. Ensure that it also contains at least one capital letter and one character (examples: *, !, $). If you want to be extra secure, use a randomly generated password. You can use this site to create one: secure password generator.

2. Don’t re-use passwords- The temptation is to use the same password across multiple sites. However- avoid it! According to Steve Bellovin, a computer science professor and cyber-security expert at Columbia University, “password reuse is a much worse danger than weak passwords are.”

3. Choose your password reset questions carefully- Don’t use questions that one can easily discover the answers to, such as your mom’s maiden name or your pet’s name. Best to choose questions that are based upon your opinion, or give fake answers.

4. Keep your email inbox clean- Your inbox potentially contains hundreds of emails filled with private information that hackers can use to get access to your money. Make sure to delete all password reset emails and emails with sensitive information, like your bank details and credit card details.

5. Shop with a credit card, not a debit card- Legally you are not liable for any fraudulent purchase. However it can take much longer to get your money back if a fraudulent purchase is made with a debit card. If you have an American Express, we recommend using that as they are highly geared towards protecting consumers, as opposed to merchants. Credit card companies also tend to have more safety measures in place so it will be harder for someone to make fraudulent puchases in the event that your card numbers are compromised.

6. Check your credit card and bank statements frequently- In the event that fraudulent charges are made, you want to know as soon as possible so you can cancel the cards, get the charges reversed and notify that authorities.

7. Shop with a secure browser- We like Firefox’s private browsing mode. Open Firefox, then look in the upper right hand corner. There you will see a little mask. Click on this and you will be in private mode. Neither your search history nor cookies will be saved.

8. Get a VPN- This is a virtual private network (VPN). It is the safest way to browse the internet as no one will be able to see your IP address or your location. They cost  money but we think they’re worth it. We like Express VPN, but there are other good ones in the market.

9. Double check the website address- When you make a purchase, double check the address of the site. Sometimes hackers can redirect you to fake sites and collect your credit card information. For example, if you’re shopping at Target, make sure you’re still on the site http://target.com when you enter your credit card information.

10. Beware of fake package delivery notifications- A common trick used by cyber-criminals is to send fake emails that appear to be tracking orders. When you click on the link to track the package, a “ransomware” gets installed on the system. This encrypts files until you pay a fee to the hackers.

11. Don’t EVER click on a link in an email- This is one of the most common ways cybercriminals try to trick consumers. Instead, enter the link directly into your browser’s tool bar.

Shopping online can be a lot of fun, and enable you to get amazing deals. So don’t be scared of it- just follow the above steps to ensure you have a safe experience.

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