Americans’ love affair with online shopping continues to grow, and retailers predict a 7 to 10 percent increase in online sales this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
While that news might make retailers giddy, security experts are reiterating their annual warnings that the convenience of online shopping comes with hazards. You could become the target of hackers out to steal your credit card or bank information, or “porch pirates” who prey on those packages left on your doorstep.
“Consumers need to take proper precautions if they don’t want their holiday merriment turning into holiday gloom,” says Gary Miliefsky, CEO of SnoopWall, a company that specializes in cyber security.
Changing all your passwords frequently is one way to protect what’s yours. Deleting smartphone or tablet apps you don’t use is another smart move, Miliefsky says, because many of those apps may be malware that spies on you.
Even porch pirates – generally seen as low-tech thieves who simply cruise neighborhoods looking for packages – can go high tech by infiltrating your smartphone where they can eavesdrop on your orders and deliveries.
“Both porch pirates and hackers count on people being lax with their defenses,” Miliefsky says. “But with a little preparation you can thwart their plans.”
He offers a few tips for doing just that:
• Shop online only from websites you trust. If you don’t know where the merchant is located, don’t shop online there. If they don’t have a corporate address or are located in another country, it could be iffy whether you ever see the goods you think you purchased. Also, if their shopping-cart experience is not an HTTPS browser session, then everything you type in – your name, address and credit-card information – is going over the Internet unencrypted, in plain view.
• Pay with credit cards rather than debit cards. If you experience identity theft, credit card laws allow you to keep all of your credit immediately, with no responsibility during an identity theft or fraud investigation. With a debit card, your bank’s policy can be to tie up your money in the amount of the fraudulent transactions for up to 30 days. Some have been known to take up to 60 days to resolve the issue.
• Get permission to ship all your packages to work. That way they aren’t left unguarded at your doorstep for hours where anyone walking by could snatch them. If this arrangement works out, be sure to tell all your friends and family also to ship packages to your work address.
• Ask a friend or neighbor to receive your packages for you. You might not be home on work days, but plenty of people are. Trusted friends who are retired or who work at home might be happy to let you have packages delivered to them for safe keeping.
“It’s wonderful that you can go online and track down those hard-to-find gifts that aren’t available in local shops,” Miliefsky says. “Just make sure you’re taking measures to help keep you and your personal information safe. The holidays will be a whole lot brighter if you do.”