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Online security tips for safe holiday shopping

Posted on December 10, 2017

Shopping online can most certainly make holiday gifting quicker and easier. But the CPAs at Teipen, Selanders, Poynter & Ayres want to remind you to be vigilant with your personal and financial information when you shop online – especially this season.

Cybercriminals love the dramatic increase in spending online this time of year. While you are shopping online for gifts, cybercriminals are shopping for credit card numbers, financial account information, Social Security numbers and other sensitive data that could help them file fraudulent tax returns or open credit cards in your name.

Anyone with an online presence should take a few simple steps to protect their identity and safeguard personal information.

Here’s what to do:

  • Maintain and update protection on all your devices, from computers to phones and tablets. Use security software to protect against malware that steal data and viruses that damage files. Make sure firewalls and browser defenses are always active. Avoid “free” security scans or pop-up advertisements for security software.
  • Shop at familiar online retailers. Sometimes scammers change the name of a familiar retailer name by just one or two letters. Verify before you shop.
  • Generally, sites using the “s” designation in “https” at the start of the URL will be secure sites. Look for the “lock” icon in the browser’s URL bar. Unfortunately however, it is possible for a fake retailer to obtain a security certificate, so the “s” in a URL may not guarantee its legitimacy.
  • Beware of making purchases after clicking on a link from a pop-up ad.
  • Avoid using unprotected Wi-Fi in public places. Never make a purchase online in a coffee shop or public building with free Wi-Fi. Unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspots may allow thieves to view your transactions.
  • Avoid phishing emails that may suggest a password is expiring or an account update is needed. The criminal’s goal is to entice users to open a link or attachment. The link may take users to a fake website that will steal usernames and passwords or can download malware that tracks keystrokes.
  • Use passwords that are strong, long and unique. Experts suggest a minimum of 10 characters — but longer is better. Avoid using a specific word, especially one that’s easy to figure out, such as your pet’s name. Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters or ideally, a phrase. Use a different password for each account.
  • Even though it may be a pain, use multi-factor authentication, meaning users may need a security code, usually sent as a text to a mobile phone, in addition to usernames and passwords. For added protection, some financial institutions also will send email or text alerts when there is a withdrawal or change to the account. Generally, users can check account profiles at these locations to see what added protections may be available.
  • Encrypt and password-protect sensitive data. If keeping financial records, tax returns or any personally identifiable information on computers, protect this info with a strong password. Be sure to back-up important data to an external source such as an external hard drive as well.
  • When it’s time to get a new computer, phone or tablet, be careful of how you dispose of your old one. Make sure to wipe the hard drive of all information before trashing.

The accounting professionals at Teipen, Selanders, Poynter & Ayres want to be sure you know that online fraud is more common than many people suspect. It only takes a few extra steps to protect your information from predators online. Besides spending untold hours on the phone with creditors after you are “hit”, it often takes a full year or more to get back your good name and re-establish credit.

Be smart and proactive this holiday season so you don’t get caught up in any kind of “phishing” net.