December 20, 2018. By Anthony Norris:

This holiday season marked a new record for online shopping. At a nearly 17% increase from 2017, online holiday sales are projected to reach $123 billion. With the ability to choose from multiple vendors, compare prices, and have packages delivered right to your door without having to leave the comfort of home, it is no wonder that online shopping continues to grow in popularity. Unfortunately, this convenience can come at a cost if you are not careful about the threats that unjolly cyber attackers pose. Luckily, taking advantage of these tips can offer you peace of mind:

Verify where you shop: Before entering any credit card or personal information, always make sure you are shopping from a reputable vendor. Unlike shopping at a physical store, you have no idea whether an online vendor has inventory. A common practice with attackers is to set up phony websites that look legitimate, all in the name of collecting your information and never delivering the products you buy. To avoid making this mistake, look for a physical address and phone number to reference should there be any issues. It is also worth investigating a company’s social media sites and reviews, including if any complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau or other organizations. Furthermore, check to see that the website is encrypted by finding a closed padlock icon along with a website address that begins with “https” rather than “http”. Finally, don’t give out too much information such as your social security number. No online vendor should need such information. You can also verify how your personal information will be used by reviewing the website’s privacy policy.

Beware of unbelievable deals: Promotions and big sales are common this time of year, especially during Black Friday or Cyber Monday. However, if there is a website offering prices that are significantly lower than others, there is a good chance it is fake.  As such, always compare prices and pictures at similar vendors.

Use credit cards wisely: US laws protect you from liability in the event your credit card gets stolen. However, debit cards do not offer the same level of protection, and since debit cards pull directly from your bank account, you could be left with insufficient funds to cover bills and other living expenses. To take protection one step further, you can use a low limit credit card for all your online purchases. It is also a good idea to get into the habit of reviewing your statements frequently (at least weekly) to check for fraudulent charges and to have account alerts set up to notify you of unusual activity.

Look out for email scams: This time of year it is common for companies to email out special deals and promotions. With this large influx of emails, it is easy to click on ones that corrupt devices with a virus or malware. The first step is to always check the validity of the sender and pay close attention to the email address. In many cases attackers will slightly alter an email address to appear legitimate. For example, changing an “i” to a 1. If you are at all suspicious, do not click on any links or open any attachments and simply delete the email. Emails that ask you to confirm your order or provide information should also be reviewed with caution. If an email asks you to enter information, it is good practice to go directly to the site rather than clicking on a link or responding directly.

Avoid shopping over public Wi-Fi: It is incredibly tempting to order items online while at your favorite coffee shop or traveling. However, it is important to remember that Wi-Fi uses public airwaves that can be easily intercepted. This means that hackers can capture any data you send or receive, including personal and/or payment information. To safely use public Wi-Fi, especially on sites requiring you to enter credentials, it is recommended to install and use a VPN (virtual private network). This will establish an encrypted connection from your devices to the VPN server, thereby making it much more difficult for hackers to intercept data.

Stay updated on passwords and software: With how busy the holiday season can get, updating software and passwords can seem burdensome. Taking the extra few minutes to do so, however, greatly reduces the chances of your computer getting hacked. Your password is the first line in defense, and although it is easy to rotate between 2-3 “go-to” passwords or patterns, it is crucial to create passwords that have at least 8 characters combined with upper and lower case, letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using personal information such as pet names or birthdays. To add another layer of defense to your electronic data, consider downloading anti-virus protection and be sure to have the most current version to better secure your devices and personal information.

Last year losses due to cyber theft totaled $1.4 billion. If you find yourself a victim or suspect fraudulent activity, notify your credit card company as soon as possible and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. To make sure that your family is being proactive against fraud and theft, review our Investor Protection Checklist together to be sure that best practices are followed. In the unfortunate event that you do fall victim to identity theft, you will want to notify your financial institutions and advisors immediately, and read this article by our Compliance Analyst, Matthew Okaty:

Identity Theft: Survival Kit Essentials


If you are a Centerpoint client and are worried that your identity has been compromised, please contact us immediately so that we may take the appropriate steps to reconcile your information. From everyone at Centerpoint, we wish you all safe shopping and a warm and healthy holiday season.