For better or worse, the 2020 Holiday season is going to be unlike any other holiday season we’ve seen. With COVID-19 cases rising once again, online shopping will replace in-person holiday shopping almost completely. Maybe that is a glimpse into our future consumer habits; who could resist getting their holiday shopping done and checked off from the comfort of their living room? As appealing as it is, such a stark shift to online shopping is going to bring with it a cadre of online safety and security concerns. Where there is money changing hands on the internet, there will be scammers finding new ways to embezzle that money.
We’ve been dealing with phishing scams and identity fraud for some time now. Still, it would be wise to expect the frequency and intensity of such occurrences to rise dramatically as we move towards the holiday season. Expect even more fraudulent emails posing as legitimate businesses or banks hitting your inbox. The tricky part is that fraudulent interfaces can look identical to the real thing more and more. As if that wasn’t enough, many scammers make their hay by intercepting insecure money transfers. So, there is considerable risk of online safety and securing breaches on the horizon.
With all that in mind, here are some tips to ensure your online safety and security during the 2020 holiday season:
Shopping on the actual app may be the safest route, but that isn’t possible with every purchase you want to make. When using a browser, click on the URL and double-check that you are on the retailer’s official website. You should be wary of websites you haven’t heard of for many reasons. The first question you should be asking is, ”Is this seller legitimate?” You can check by looking for ratings from other buyers or searching for reviews of the seller. Second and just as important, you should be checking to see if the server the site is on is secure. You can check this by looking at the URL; if the server is secure, the URL will read :https” instead of “http.” That ensures that your information is protected against scammers.
Always be diligent when shopping from an email, as this is one of the bigger scams. Scammers have gotten better at making email interfaces look just like the real thing, so always make sure you’re clicking on a legitimate email or link by checking the sender’s address by clicking “edit” on the sender’s name so you can see the full email address. You’ll be able to tell what is and isn’t a legitimate email address very easily. Finally, make sure your computer has the latest operating system and web browser updates. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google (Chrome) continuously release security updates for their products. When a browser such as Chrome, Edge, or Firefox is up to date, it will warn and protect you from going to a fake or insecure website.
This tip is simple and straight forward, but it is something many of us are guilty of doing. Saving your credit card information makes your life easier in the short term, but whenever you save your credit card number, it is being stored somewhere. When it is stored somewhere, it’s available to someone who may be looking to steal it. Take away the opportunity, and you take away the threat. As previously stated, it’s quick and to the point. Furthermore, it’s beneficial to use a credit card over a debit card because credit cards offer more buyers protections.
It’s understandable to want to use WiFi as much as possible. WiFi has become our digital lifeblood, our free ticket to stay connected to the rest of the world. That ticket sometimes comes with a high price. Public WiFi servers are completely unsecured; they are public after all, which means your information is also available when you’re on one. Punching in your credit card information on public WiFi is a good way to get your identity stolen in time for the holiday spending season. The fix here is also simple; don’t shop on public WiFi. In fact, stay off public WiFi as much as you can. Even if it means burning up your data, go ahead and burn it. You have a certain allotment of data to use every month, so you should use what you pay for. Worst case scenario, you go over your limit and get a charge in the vicinity of $15. Yes, it’s best to avoid charges you can avoid, but if you do have identify theft issues and fraudulent credit card charges, chances are you’ll wish you took the $15 charge.
Taking it a step further, you should set your device to ‘forget’ any public WiFi networks you’ve previously joined. It’s frighteningly easy for scammers to create their own WiFi Hotspots that you can accidentally join one automatically, because it’s set up to look and act so similar to a public network you’ve previously joined.
This is something that should be practiced during the holiday season and beyond. It is best to keep tabs on what you’re spending for budgeting and savings purposes, but it is also essential to keep an eye on expenses around the holiday season to identify any charges that look suspicious. Have one credit card that is only used for online shopping. This makes it easier to identify fraudulent charges when reviewing your statement because it will only show your online purchases and not get mixed with other charges like gas or food. You can also request a low credit limit on this credit card to limit your risk. If your credit card information is stolen, the hacker will be limited on what they can purchase.
As with any crime, the quicker it’s identified and reported, the larger a chance you have that it gets resolved. You can be proactive about it by setting up text alerts, so you’re notified when you incur charges that seem to be out of the norm. Also, check your credit score at least once a year. This annual check-up will give you a good idea of your credit health and show you any signs that your credit score is getting damaged by charges or outstanding balances you’re not aware of.
While the 2020 Holiday Season may bring a new set of challenges, they’re all issues that you can mitigate yourself. If you have any questions about your financial future or savings, don’t hesitate to reach out to a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM practitioner.
Author: AFG | Allegheny Financial Group | November 2020
Allegheny Financial Group is a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through Allegheny Investments, LTD, a registered broker/dealer. Member FINRA/SIPC.