Shopping online for your holiday gifts is incredibly convenient. Why stand in long lines at the mall, when you can find everything you need for your friends and family in your pajamas? The National Retail Federation reports that 59 percent of consumers shop online for the holidays. But you can also open yourself up to identity theft, scams and hacking.
Here are a few ways to keep your information safe.
1. Only shop on websites that have a reputation for being trustworthy with your financial information, like Amazon or Target.com. Moreover, it helps to track your credit score to ensure that you haven’t been hacked. Forty-five percent (45%) of people use a credit monitoring tool so that they have access to tools and resources they need to improve or protect their credit, according to the 2017 Capital One Credit Protection Survey.
2. Check the url of the website. Never put your credit card information online unless there is a padlock icon, and the url starts with “https”. This is called a secure sockets layer or SSL. “Use different passwords for different websites whenever possible, specifically ensuring your banking password is different for other merchants,” says Sarah Strauss, head of fraud and managing vice president, U.S. Card at Capital One
3. Track your credit report on a regular basis so you’ll know when something goes wrong. Thirty-six percent (36%) of people could be doing more to protect their credit, according to the same survey. “You can regularly monitor your credit with a free tool like CreditWise,” says Strauss. “Also, sign up for purchase notifications from your credit card company or bank so you know when your card is used.”
4. Avoid simple passwords. Have at least eight characters that include both upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Never use your date of birth, name, or any other personal information that a hacker can guess. “If your information is compromised, a fraudster can use that information to open new accounts, access existing accounts, and/or use stolen credit card numbers to make fraudulent purchases,” says Strauss. “One of the biggest risks to your credit score is if a fraudster opens an account in your name, and then defaults on the loan.”
In the worst case scenario, you still have the power to save your credit score. If you see that someone has stolen your identity, you can call one of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax or TransUnion — and do a credit freeze. This means that you cannot open any new cards under your own name. But the thief can’t, either.
“While your liability for credit card fraud is limited, the process to clean up the fraudulent information on your credit bureau can be time consuming,” says Strauss. “In a world where our information is increasingly digital, the best strategy for consumers is to be vigilant and regularly monitor your credit report and bank accounts to catch fraud quickly.”