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Business Brief: How To Stay Safe While Holiday Shopping Online

cat sitting at computer keyboard
Lis Ferla via Flickr

With the holiday shopping season already underway, internet hackers and scammers are expected to be busy, too.

Listen to this story on Redux

Courtesy of Jeremy Brant, VP for information technology for Florida Capital Bank, here are tips for avoiding cyber-security pitfalls while shopping:

1.  Beware of deals in your inbox

First off, the great majority of trouble comes in the form of email offers that look like they are from legitimate retailers but instead are from people who want to steal your information.

“Ninety-eight percent of threats come in through email,” Brant said. “That’s what we fight every day. They’re hard to decipher, are they good or bad?”

If you click on a link inside a fake email, scammers can load up your computer with malware designed to steal information from your hard drive, including passwords, account numbers and other personal information. They can then sell the info, which can then be used to steal your identity and your money.

To avoid this, go to the store’s actual website and look for the special offer there. And always make sure the website you're shopping on has an address that starts with “https” – the “s” is critical; it stands for “secure.”

2. Keep your computer and phone updated with all of the latest operating system updates.

“You want to do those updates because a lot of times they have security flaws that have been found, and those will be patched,” Brant said. “You also want to have antivirus, anti-malware software, and you want to make sure that’s up to date.”

3. Avoid making a purchase while connected to public Wi-Fi.

Let’s say you have five minutes while you’re sipping your latte in a coffee shop, so you think, “Oh, I have time to buy my brother that present.” Don’t do it over the public Wi-Fi! Hackers can easily access your information that way. Instead, wait until you get home, or switch over to cellular data before you enter sensitive information.

4. Avoid using debit cards online.

Here’s why, Brant said, to use a credit card when making an online purchase: “If somebody drains your bank account, you’re out your money. Whereas, with the credit card, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry out there—fraud—for the credit card companies. They have dedicated teams that are going to do their research, and they’re going to give you your credit back.”

5. Don’t store your credit card number on a website.

Retail sites can be hacked, and the number can be stolen. Check your credit card and bank statements often, especially in high-volume times like the holidays.

6. The best protection against cybercrime is to get in your car, drive to the store and buy your stuff there.

Photoused under Creative Commons license. 

WJCT Business Analyst John Burr is a veteran journalist who has been been directing news coverage and reporting in Jacksonville since 1983. He is currently also a news analyst for WJCT, where he can be heard regularly on the "First Coast Connect" media roundtable.