NEW YORK – ‘Tis the season to be jolly – but it’s also the season for identity theft, phishing and credit card fraud.
With Christmas just days away, people are using their smartphones and other devices to get a handle on their last-minute shopping. Hackers are on the hunt as well, looking to steal personal information from easy targets.
“People just need to have their radar up, so that when they’re trying to get their perfect gift to grandma’s house in time for Christmas day, they’re not clicking on things they shouldn’t,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
You’d better watch out
Make sure your phone’s operating system and all the apps you use to shop are up to date. That way you’ll have the fixes for any recently discovered security problems.
You should also enable multi-factor authentication in the settings on your important accounts. This is a security measure that requires you to enter a temporary code in addition to your password when signing in; services often text this code to your phone. It complicates life for hackers should they somehow manage to get your password.
Improvements in credit card fraud detection have pushed hackers to focus on stealing legitimate login credentials, so adding an extra layer of protection to these accounts is a must, says John Dickson with the cybersecurity firm Denim Group.
And while some cybersecurity experts question the value of changing your password frequently, Dickson says it’s not a bad idea this time of year.
“If you had a New Year’s resolution to change your passwords, move that up by about four weeks, because this is fraudster season,” Dickson says.
Santa (and Hackers) are watching
Nobody likes to dip into their mobile-data plan, but you might want to set aside a few gigabytes for your holiday shopping.
Signing on to free Wi-Fi at a store or coffee shop can be risky. Hackers could be lurking on the networks, ready to use that connection to steal credit-card numbers or other personal information. If you’re using free Wi-Fi, at least wait till you get home to check your bank account balances, Kaiser says.
Feast of the phishes
Phishing spikes during the holiday season. Emails that offer great deals on holiday gifts or donation pitches from charities could actually be attempts to steal your credit card or login information. Another popular trick: Fake emails supposedly sent by online retailers or shipping companies.
Don’t click on links in these emails, as they may lead you to a fake website that looks legitimate. Instead, type in the company’s website directly.