Shopping Online? Read This First to Protect Your Information

Did you know that 25% of Americans now report a fraud incident during the holidays? This is twice as many as past years. As more people use the internet to order groceries, gifts and even talk to their doctor, it is important that you take online security seriously to guard your sensitive personal information.

Exactly How to Protect Your Personal Information When Shopping Online

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The holiday season has arrived, and for most, it also means shopping for gifts from the convenience of home to avoid large crowds and busy mall traffic. There’s no doubt that the accessibility of online shopping has made our lives easier, however, it also exposes us to several harmful online risks due to sharing sensitive personal information that we’ve become far too comfortable with.

And as you should know, retailers are not the only ones making a profit during the Holiday season—cybercriminals are in for a profit as well. So while we couldn’t and wouldn’t deter you from shopping online, there are, however, a few rules to keep in mind to help you reduce your cyber risk.

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Ways to Protect Your Computer

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Before you even consider connecting to the Internet, ensure that you protect your computer itself. Keep reading to find out a few tips to protect your computer better, and the information kept on it.

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Antivirus Software

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Make sure you have Antivirus Software enabled on your computer. If your computer came with it installed, double-check to make sure it’s running, and if not, we’d recommend doing that right away to protect your devices from viruses, malware, and adware. A few examples of well-known and legitimate Antivirus Software include McAfee, Bitdefender, Norton, Kaspersky.

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Use a Password Keeper

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We recommend people use a password keeper like LastPass, Dashlane, or a product we use called 1Password to generate, store and retrieve passwords. These password keepers also help you create secure, randomly generated passwords instead of your cat’s birthday. By the way, happy birthday to your cat.

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Protect Your Hard Drive

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First, ensure your hard drive is encrypted. If you’re using a Mac, that means having your FileVault enabled, and on a PC, it would likely be BitLocker. If your computer is stolen, all of the data on your computer is encrypted (or scrambled) and unusable to someone else.

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Backup Your Hard Drive

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Ransomware is the number one revenue source for malicious actors. In this exploit, the hacker encrypts all the data on your hard drive and then extorts a payment in return for the decryption key to restore your data.  With the backup copy of your hard drive, you can generally restore your system without regard to the hacker’s demands.

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Browse, Email, Transact and Shop Safely Online

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Once you’ve made sure your physical computer is safe and ready to shop online for gifts, it’s time to get down to business. Once you connect to the Web via a secure network, of course on your secured computer, you need to continue to be vigilant and diligent.

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Use Safe Networks

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Safe computing at home, at work, or on the go starts with ensuring you’re connecting safely and securely to the Internet so that nefarious entities aren’t intercepting your data.

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Modems & Routers

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Nowadays, many internet modems are also peoples’ Wifi routers (sometimes referred to as a router/modem combo or gateway), and they usually have firewalls enabled by default, which is important.

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Wifi Password

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You should always take it upon yourself to ensure you have a very strong Wifi password on your network–don’t make it your address or phone number or your dog’s name. You’d be surprised how many networks have a basic password or none at all. A strong WIFI password is at least eight characters and should be totally random. Use a Password Keeper or Digital Vault to store this complicated password.

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Setup a Guest Network

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It is also recommended to have a guest network to allow friends or visitors to use the network while in your home so that you’re not exposing your internal network and computers.

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Use a VPN

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If you’re connecting to the Internet through a public WIFI network, stick to networks that you know, trust, or use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to encrypt your web traffic. A Virtual Private Network can be used to provide additional anonymity and encryption of your web traffic by allowing you to access the public internet through a private tunnel. Popular VPN vendors include NordVPN and ExpressVPN, and they offer monthly and yearly plans to help you access the Web more securely.

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Use Two-factor Authentication

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MFA/2FA,  sometimes called Multi-Factor Authentication, is important to use when you can. This means that you use a secondary medium to verify your login credentials or intention to complete a transaction. For example, MFA often sends a pin code or short number-based password via SMS or an authenticator app. This makes it much more difficult for hackers to try and access your accounts if they’ve managed to get their hands on your password.

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Only Shop Secure Websites

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Never and I mean never buy anything or share personal information on a website that doesn’t start with “https://” – HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, which means that the website is secured by an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate and ensures that there is an encrypted link between you and that website. When browsing, take a look in the browser’s URL bar. If the website has a closed lock, then you’re in good hands.

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Only Shop Familiar Sites

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Shopping with familiar and well-known retailers in addition to large marketplaces will reduce the chance that your purchase won’t arrive and that you’ll have access to a legitimate support department.

If you want to shop on a new or lesser-known online store that you have not purchased from before, ensure that you can find legitimate contact information for the store (phone number and address) and try to establish if the store has actual ratings and reviews from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Yelp, Trustpilot or the Better Business Bureau.

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Don’t Overshare Your Information Online

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Most shopping sites should not need to know your mother’s maiden name or your birthday. Likewise, retailers should never be asking you for your Social Security Number. So give up as little information as required.

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If Something Is Too Good to be True

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Then, it probably is. On lesser-known sites, watch out for deals that seem to be marked down an absurd amount, often with a countdown clock imploring you to press that red “buy now” button. Additionally, be particularly careful of email deals you never signed up for – most top-tier retailers won’t be spamming you if you haven’t signed up for their newsletter or transacted with them in the past six months.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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Nevin is an online information privacy expert and currently the Chief Information Security Officer at FutureVault, a leading secure document exchange and Digital Vault provider for the financial services industry. Nevin graduated with a Master of Science degree in Cybersecurity from Brown University. As a former 1st round draft pick for the Boston Bruins in 1983, Nevin played nine seasons in the NHL before retiring and shortly after completing his MBA in finance from Northeastern University in Boston in 1994 and began a career in the investment management industry where his experience includes senior and executive-level roles.