5 Ways to Prevent Online Fraud and Holiday Scams
'Tis the season for holiday shopping. This year, more people than ever will log onto the Internet to buy Christmas gifts. In fact, nearly five million people will do their holiday shopping online. Sources say this is more people than will attend church services on Christmas Day.
Shopping for gifts from your computer or smartphone is convenient. But it's easy to fall prey to holiday cyber criminals when your defenses are down. While you are looking for that perfect Christmas present, scammers are looking for the ideal target.
Cyber criminals use the Internet to commit their crimes. Cyber crimes encompass numerous illegal activities ranging from online fraud and identity theft to phishing and smishing (text phishing) scams.
If you want to avoid the hustle-and-bustle of crowded shopping malls, go ahead and shop online. But remember to protect yourself. Closely guard your personal and financial information, including your credit and debit card numbers.
Here are a five tips to help you prevent online fraud and holiday scams. Put them into practice now for a safer shopping experience and a merrier Christmas.
1. Use a Secure Website
Whether you plan to shop by computer or mobile phone, secure Internet sites protect you from online fraud and holiday scams.
How do you know if a website is secure? Click on the padlock icon in your browser window, and view the website security report to see if the server uses an encrypted connection.
Look at the website URL, too. A web address preceded by "http://" indicates a site that is not secure. A URL that starts with “https://" signifies a secure website, so you know that your transaction will be sent in an encrypted form.
2. Create Strong Passwords
Strong passwords provide a safer online experience as you shop for that perfect Christmas gift. The best passwords are long, complex, and varied. Create passwords that are at least eight characters in length and use a combination of numbers, letters, symbols, and punctuation.
If a particular website does not allow eight password characters, create the longest possible password for that site. Use a secure password checker (you can find these online) to evaluate your password's strength. Keep your passwords secret, and never share them with anyone. Don't use the same password for everything, and change your passwords periodically to keep them effective.
Security Software Packages
Amazon Price: $18.00
List Price: $79.95
Amazon Price: $10.00
List Price: $79.99
Amazon Price: $13.42
List Price: $59.99
3. Maintain Security Software
Good Internet security is essential for safe online transactions. Security software provides real time protection against viruses, malware, spyware, and other harmful applications. Buy your security package from a reputable source. And always check out the source before you download and install free antivirus programs or mobile apps.
Most security programs run quietly in the background, protecting your computer or smartphone while you do your holiday shopping. For continuous and up-to-date protection, stay on top of the recommended updates for your particular software.
4. Shop Smart and Savvy
Does it look too good to be true? It probably is. Do your research before placing an online order, especially if you are unfamiliar with the seller. If you are leery about sharing your personal or bank account information over the web, use a separate credit card designated for holiday purchases.
A virtual credit card, also called a temporary or throw-away card, is another good payment option. Virtual credit cards are assigned a number for a single transaction or monetary amount. They generally expire immediately after use.
5. Protect Yourself
Download mobile apps from official stores like Android Market, Apple AppStore, BlackBerry App World and Windows Phone Marketplace. Do your research and read through the user reviews before downloading the applications.
Be vigilant when viewing email messages or sending replies from your computer or smartphone. Use caution on social networks, too. Don't accept friend requests from people you have never met, and don't reveal personal information to participate in promotions or contests.
Finally, don't post pictures or comments about your holiday vacation plans until after you have returned home. Otherwise, you leave your door wide open to the cyber criminals.
The Twelve Scams of Christmas, According to McAfee
1. Mobile phone malware
7. Holiday phishing / smishing scams
2. Malicious mobile phone apps
8. Online coupon scams
3. Phony Facebook contests and promotions
9. Mystery shopper scams
4. Fake antivirus software (scareware)
10. "Wrong transaction" malware emails
5. Holiday screensavers
11. Hot "It" gift scams
6. Mac-targeted malware
12. "Away from home" scammers
Reference Sources / Further Reading
- Bankrate. (November 19, 2007) "Beware These Five Holiday Scams." MSN Money. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
- Cybercitizenship. (n.d.) “What is Cyber Crime?" The Cyber Citizen Partnership. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
- Davis, Gary. (November 8, 2011) "McAfee Warns Consumers of the Twelve Scams of Christmas." McAfee, Inc. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
- Microsoft. (2011) "Create Strong Passwords." Microsoft. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
- Ulrich, Carmen Wong. (November 12, 2011) "How to Spot, Avoid Holiday Scams." CBS News. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
Copyright © 2011. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: November 19, 2011 / Modified: February 25, 2013.
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