10 online holiday shopping safety tips

‘Tis the season for fraud, especially online. As we increasingly use smartphones and computers to buy holiday gifts for our loved ones, crafty thieves are lurking in the shadows, waiting to steal our personal information and hard-earned money. 

“Consumers enjoy fast payments and products to be available very quickly online,” says Erika Dietrich, global director payments risk at ACI Worldwide. “But this also provides the opportunity for people to buy things fraudulently. It’s very likely that because of data compromises, that consumers may see transactions on their accounts that are not theirs.”

Dietrich says there are 10 ways consumers can protect themselves from fraud when shopping online this holiday season:

Shop at reputable websites

If you receive an email or text advertising a sale, Dietrich says don’t click on the link, even if it looks like it’s from a retailer you frequent. 

“We’ve seen this time and time again where fraudsters create websites that make it look like they are a true merchant, but they are not,” she says.

Dietrich says not only will you never receive the item you ordered; thieves may also obtain information from your computer/smartphone, such as where you shop or even your password.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi

Personal and financial information are vulnerable on public Wi-Fi networks, so it’s safest to shop only on private and secure Wi-Fi networks.

“If individuals leave their phones open, criminals have the ability to access them unbeknownst to the consumer,” says Dietrich. “If a consumer has low security protocols on their laptop, computer or mobile device, a fraudster can simply access their information.”

Be wary of public charging stations

Dietrich says the phenomenon of "juice jacking" is relatively new. Unsuspecting people running out of power on their smartphone connect their device to what they think is a public charging station. What they don’t realize is that the kiosk is fake. Crafty thieves have rigged phony charging stations with the purpose of stealing personal data from your device. Once you connect the USB cable to the charging station and your phone is unlocked, anyone can steal data from your phone.

Use biometric authentication

Dietrich advises consumers to use biometric authentication such as Apple Pay or Google Pay when shopping online. As biometric authentication requires a thumb print or facial recognition, she says the technology gives consumers an extra layer of security.

Never leave your phone unlocked

Not in the habit of locking your smartphone? Dietrich says leaving your phone unlocked will make it easier for somebody to take over your device and access your personal accounts and information. Locking your phone is a must!

Vary your passwords

You should avoid using the same password combination with multiple merchants. Dietrich says fraudsters can use that information for future account takeovers. They can also steal rewards and points from your account. Her advice is to use stronger and different passwords for all of your accounts.

Set up pins when online shopping

If you can, take advantage of the new EMV technology when shopping online.

“Most if not all credit cards issued in the U.S. are equipped with EMV technology,” Dietrich says. “While most of these are ‘Chip-and-Signature’ enabled, some variations offer a more secure ‘Chip-and-PIN’ option, where the card’s data is embedded in a microchip and its use is protected by the need to enter a personal identification number (PIN) to complete a transaction. Pursuing the latter option is highly recommended, especially considering some banking and insurance companies use a PIN to validate a consumer calling to access or make changes to their account.”

Avoid leaving boxes on your front porch

Are you expecting package deliveries this holiday season? Avoid leaving boxes on your front porch for long periods of time. Dietrich says you might want to consider installing a camera in front of your home to deter thieves. But she does note that even with cameras, some brazen criminals know how to avoid the camera’s line of sight or may even wear hoods to avoid detection.

Check your credit report

Consumers should check their credit report at least every 12 months. You are entitled to a free copy of your report every year from the three nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized to fill orders for free annual credit reports. 

“You may order reports from each company individually or all at once,” says Dietrich. “Any suspicious activity or accounts you don't recognize on these reports can be telltale signs of identity theft. If a consumer sees any open or outstanding debt they don’t recognize, they should make formal inquiries with the credit card provider and credit reporting company to validate the information immediately.”

Track your credit and debit card spending

If you aren’t tracking your credit and debit card spending, you are making a big mistake. Many major banks and credit card issuers offer fraud alert notifications. Sign up for real-time text messages or email alerts to let you know when your card has been used. Dietrich says this can be particularly helpful when loved ones are sharing the same credit accounts and may not realize that someone else has made a purchase.

“The power is with the consumer to buy at great discounts,” she says. “Speed of delivery, ease of service, any payment possibility. But don’t be concerned about shopping online in regards to fraud. Just take preventative measures to monitor your credit card activity and make sure you use strong passwords and different passwords across merchant to merchant. Shopping online is secure, safe and here to stay and will continue to grow.”

Linda Bell joined FOX Business Network (FBN) in 2014 as an assignment editor. She is an award-winning writer of business and financial content.  You can follow her on Twitter @lindanbell