Protecting Your Personal Information During the Holidays

Thanks to the internet, holiday shopping is more convenient than ever—not just for consumers, but for cybercriminals as well. Cybercriminals use the busy holiday season to target e-commerce sites and ramp up scam attempts on individual consumers, and it can be easy to become a victim of cybercrime.

In this article, we share five helpful tips and reminders for shopping—especially online—to keep your personal information safe and secure.

#1 – Be cautious of using unencrypted Wi-Fi, as you find at coffee shops and bookstores

  • Public Wi-Fi networks can potentially provide hackers access to passwords and email, which can be used to access your financial accounts. Hackers can even create public Wi-Fi networks with seemingly innocuous names to trick users into thinking they are on a legitimate public Wi-Fi network.
  • Never use a public Wi-Fi network to access sites that contain your personal information (e.g., online banking or health care), or any site that requires a password.[1]
  • Make sure to turn off the “auto-connect to Wi-Fi” setting on your devices to avoid unintentionally connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots.

#2 – Use credit cards for online shopping

  • Many online shoppers prefer to use their debit cards to make purchases. However, debit cards are linked directly to your bank accounts, and if cybercriminals get hold of your banking information, they can access all your funds and even lock you out of your own accounts. Debit cards typically offer less protection against fraudulent activity, and in many cases, account holders are on the hook for any fraudulent charges—even if their debit card was stolen.
  • Where possible, use a credit card. Not only is each credit card an independent part of your overall finances, but most credit card companies offer stringent fraud protection services at no charge and are typically much more willing to reverse any fraudulent charges should they occur.[2]

#3 – Keep anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date

  • Anti-virus software updates are released regularly to address vulnerabilities that criminals are looking to exploit, and it is crucial that you keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date to protect your personal information.[3]
  • This goes for smartphones and tablets as well as computers. More and more consumers use their phones and tablets to manage their finances, and mobile app fraud has increased by over 600% since 2015.[4]

#4 – Use unique, complex passwords

  • Avoid reusing passwords for different accounts—especially accounts containing your personal information. If a hacker gains access to a reused password, they may be able to access many of your accounts using the same password.
  • A strong or complex password is one of the first lines of defense against attacks. With the use of a password manager, you can generate complex, unique passwords and have a secure place to store them.
  • Services like Keeper or LastPass can automatically generate complex passwords for different websites; best of all, you only need to remember one password (your master password) in order to access your full list of passwords.

#5 – Set up Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on financial and email accounts

  • Two-factor Authentication (2FA) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) provide a valuable additional layer of security, which makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your accounts and devices.
  • MFA and 2FA require you to verify a second piece of information in addition to your password. In most cases, this means sending a one-time verification code to your personal device (typically your cell phone) to confirm your identity.[5] So, even if a hacker manages to get their hands on your password, they won’t be able to log in without access to your personal device.

Closing Thoughts

The holiday season is for relaxing and spending time with friends, family, and loved ones—not worrying about becoming a victim of cybercrime. By being diligent and keeping these tips in mind during the holiday shopping season, you can help keep your personal information safe and out of the hands of cybercriminals. If you have additional questions or concerns about how best to secure your personal information and protect your private data, the team at SWP is here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more details.

[1] Center for Internet Security, 10 Cybersecurity Shopping Tips for the Holiday Season. (Link)

[2] The Ascent, 4 Reasons to Use a Credit Card When Shopping Online (Link)

[3] Security Intelligence, 7 Holiday Cybersecurity Tips to Try Before The Year Ends. (Link)

[4] DataProt, Mobile Banking Statistics That Show Wallets Are A Thing of The Past. (Link)

[5] AVG, What Is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)? (Link)

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