Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Staying Secure During the “Super Bowl of Online Theft”

Cyber Monday has been called "the Super Bowl of online theft." The linked article also reports that $113 billion in consumer loss is the result of cybercrime. Many of us now worry more about our keystrokes getting logged than our wallet being snatched. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help protect your personal financial information as you deal-hunt on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and every day.

Know Where You're Shopping

Would you hand your credit card to someone selling bootleg blu-rays from a van? Approach online sellers the same way. Often, a simple internet search for an unfamiliar store name can quickly confirm or disprove whether a site is legitimate. Do you own review of the site, too. Click the About Us and FAQ links to make sure they lead somewhere. Look for contact information (or at least a mention) of real people who provide customer service. If something about a site seems odd to you, don't enter your info.

Guard Your Info

Only enter information such as credit card numbers, SSNs, passwords, etc. on sites that you know are legitimate and secure, and only enter the information that's needed to complete the sale. Use PayPal or another third party payment service. That way, you can enter your credit card or checking account number once, have it verified, and then shop everywhere that payment service is accepted without giving stores any of your information. Even on legit, secure sites, don't store your credit card info for future use. Don't give yourself or others an opportunity to make impulse buys in the future.

Limit the number of cards you're shopping online with at the same time, to keep better track of your spending and more quickly notice any fraudulent charges on your bill. And change your passwords regularly, especially on websites that handle financial information. Make your passwords easy to remember but hard to guess, and make sure they're at least 8 characters long and contain caps, numbers and/or symbols. Use different passwords for banking and other personal business than you use for casual memberships to shopping or discussion sites – the latter are less likely to be kept secure.

Be Vigilant

Always check for the green type and/or green highlight in your browser, along with a lock icon, before entering your credit card info. If your browser bar is yellow with the triangle or some other color instead of green with a lock, drop an email to the site's customer service. If it's a good site, they'll get back to you so you can give them your business.

Know who has access to your "personal trivia." I'm not saying you have to set your Twitter to private, just know what information is out there. Ever notice that many of the "secret questions" websites give you to retrieve a lost password often show up on "random question" chain-posts that people are encouraged to share with everyone in their network?

Be wary on WiFi. I don't know anyone who does all their computing with a wired connection anymore, although I still hear people suggest that as a method of staying safe. Be twice as vigilant when shopping online at the coffee shop as you are when shopping from home. It's a good idea to only use PayPal or your third party payment service when you're on public networks, if you spend money at all.

Let Your Hardware and Software Work for You

Whether you're browsing on a laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet, familiarize yourself with clearing your cache, deleting your cookies, and other ways to clean up after yourself online and keep your information private. Close websites, applications and windows when you're not using them. Don't download new programs until you've researched and verified them. Find out what types of virus protection or scanning software are already installed on your devices, and how they can help you.

Know how to uninstall smartphone apps (or computer programs) if they slow down your device or otherwise irritate you. Although the app universe is apparently designed to make you feel exactly like a kid in a candy store, take a step back and find out what you'll be eating.

Keep Tabs on Your Tabs

Stay aware of your own credit card use, and know what type of purchase and fraud protection your credit cards offer before you need it. Find out whether you have insurance or warranties on purchases, and how to dispute a charge. Many credit cards have helpful value-adds that we forget to take advantage of. They can most likely be found in the booklet with the really tiny print that comes with a new credit card, or on the website.

Review your credit card and bank statements as soon you get them. Even if you know you spent too much money and would prefer not to think about it, double check to make sure you're the one who spent it.

Check your credit around Spring each year. You're entitled to a free credit report from Experian,TransUnion, and Equifax once a year, and you're not required to join any trial credit tracking memberships to get it. One shortcut is to apply for a credit card you don't qualify for. Your rejection letter should explain your right to check your credit report and how to do it.

Catch the Deal Next Time

If everyone got all the deals, they wouldn't be deals. If you feel that a purchase won't be secure, or if a site looks sketchy to you, step away from the computer and try again later, or buy the item somewhere else. We can promise you, you'll see plenty more deals on this site.

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