Online holiday shopping offers the convenience of shopping from home or the office, the economic advantage of lower prices obtained through online price comparisons and coupons and possibly even ecological benefits, such as relying on bulk delivery methods rather than having every consumer drive a to the mall.

online holiday shoppingOnline holiday shopping carries with it some risks for consumers.

Risks include falling victim to theft, fraud or identity theft.  While there is no way to completely eliminate risks associated with online holiday shopping, there are some concrete steps that consumers can take to reduce the likelihood of being victimized this holiday season, or anytime during the rest of the year.

To reduce the risks associated with online holiday shopping, consumers should minimize the amount of personal information posted online.  Use responsible online behaviors and use only secure online systems.  Let’s look at each of these three areas to identify some helpful tips.

Online Holiday Shopping Tip #1: Minimize the amount of personal information you post online

The cumulative amount of personal consumer information stored online is astounding.  Through an advanced Internet searching technique called “data mining,” many pieces of disparate information can be re-assembled by computers.  

If this technique were to be applied maliciously to online information that has been gathered, leaked or breached over the past few years,  it would be possible to reconstruct a comprehensive record of a consumer’s identity, including all their credit cards, bank account numbers, home and work addresses, and other identifying information.

  • Select only one credit card to use for all online transactions, and keep the credit limit as low as possible on that card.   Make sure your children do the same from the time they start using credit cards.
  • Consider only a last initial on social networking sites to make it more difficult for strangers to find information about you.
  • Avoid posting trip notices online before you travel to avoid physical break-ins while you’re away. 

Online Holiday Shopping Tip #2: Use responsible online behaviors

Criminals and online fraudsters frequently use a variety of techniques, collectively called “social engineering,” to trick consumers into providing information that could be used to commit theft or fraud.  Keep the following rules in mind when performing any online or telephone transaction. 

  • Never supply your username or password or describe your banking “sitekey” to anyone.  Banks will not ask you for this information.
  • Never click on a “tempt-to-click” hyperlink contained in a received email.  It may lead to your computer becoming infected with malware that will steal your passwords.
  • Purchase only from online retailers with strong reputations.  Consider a vendor selection algorithm that favors “lowest-price with a five-star seller rating” or something similar.
  • Avoid making online purchases from kiosks or shared workstations at hotels, airports, etc.
  • If a web site asks to store your credit card information for more convenient future purchases, just say no.
  • Avoid paying for public Wi-Fi with credit cards – instead contract with your wireless provider if you need Internet access while on the go.
  • Ask your bank to disable home phone number-based authentication on automated phone systems that provide account information. 

Online Holiday Shopping Tip #3: Use only secure online equipment

There are literally tens of thousands of examples of computer viruses and other malicious software, often called “malware,” that can try to infect your computer, tablet or smart phone. 

Once your computer becomes infected with malware, it is possible that usernames, passwords and other sensitive information may be stolen from you and sent back over the Internet to criminals who would use it for theft or fraud.

  • Ensure that your computer’s anti-virus/anti-malware/security software is installed and up-to-date so malware doesn’t steal your personal information.
  • If you use Wi-Fi in your home or office ensure that only encrypted communications are allowed.
  • Ensure that your mobile device or tablet is has been registered and enabled for “remote wipe” to delete all personal information if it gets lost or stolen.
  • Enable security codes on your smart phone or tablet to avoid “insider theft” of passwords and to slow down the ability of a thief to gain access to your saved information.
  • Consider investing in a credit-watch service to notify you quickly in the event that something does happen. 

Following these tips will help to ensure a safe, secure online holiday shopping experience.

Mike PaquetteMike Paquette currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer of Corero Network Security, formerly Top Layer, where he is responsible for Corero’s product portfolio, product management, and strategy. 

Mike has 27 years of computer networking and security experience with an extensive background in the design and development of networking products. 

Visit Corero.com for more information on computer security options for online holiday shopping.