NEW YORK -
Online fraud spikes during the holiday shopping season, as
people searching for the perfect gifts take to cyberspace and
head to traditional stores armed with their smartphones.
Pandora's box of cyberattacks is about to open," says
Pete Tyrrell, chief operating officer for Digital Guardian, a
Waltham, Massachusetts-based data protection firm. "The
cybercriminals are getting more and more creative - and at the
end of the day, it's your personal information at risk."
Here are some
tips for protecting yourself and your information from online
GIFTS OF FREE WI-FI
tempting to sign on to a store's free Wi-Fi while you're out
shopping, especially since store walls are notorious for
blocking or weakening smartphone data connections. But
fraudsters also may be lurking on the networks, ready to use
that connection to steal credit card or other personal
may want to log on to their Best Buy or Amazon accounts to
check prices, but open Wi-Fi is probably the least secure
place to do that," says Michael Kaiser, executive
director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
And never use
open Wi-Fi connections to check bank account information. The
last thing you want a hacker to have is a direct connection to
your bank account.
tech-savvy enough to use VPN software ó short for
"virtual private network," a technique for shutting
would-be eavesdroppers out of your connection ó on your
phone, then free Wi-Fi is safe so long as you have the VPN on.
For most people, though, it's simply best to stick to your
need to be on the lookout for less high-tech thieves when
shopping online in crowded public places like coffee shops,
says Nitin Bhandari, senior vice president for products at
Opera Software Solutions. That means keepings your screens out
of the views of others ó even smartphones, which are bigger
and easier to read from a distance than they used to be.
FROM POTENTIAL PHISH
spikes during the holiday season. Emails that offer great
deals on holiday gifts or donation pitches from charities
could actually be attempts to steal your credit card or login
information. Another popular trick: fake emails supposedly
sent by online retailers or shippers such as FedEx or UPS,
saying that a payment for an order didn't go through, or that
an order didn't ship.
on links in these emails. It could contain malware or take you
to a fake website that looks very much like that of a
legitimate company. Instead of getting help, you'll most
likely have your personal information stolen.
the possibility of not getting a gift in time can make people
click before they think, Kaiser says. So, it's best to slow
down. If you think an email is genuine, just go directly to
the company in question's main website.
ACCOUNTS FOR "NAUGHTY" ACTIVITY
and after the holidays, shoppers need to keep a close eye on
their accounts. The easiest way to do this is to use the same
credit card for all of your holiday shopping. Never use your
debit card; if hackers get ahold of your number, they could
clean out your bank account.
email account can also help keep things organized.
It's also a
good idea to use different user names and different passwords
for your various shopping accounts. That way if one is
compromised, it's less likely that the others will fall to
hackers as well, says Tim Francis, the head of "cyber
insurance" policies at Travelers.
LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE ...
emails that advertise hot deals on popular or hard-to-find
gifts, along with free or deeply discounted gift cards, are
probably scams. "I still haven't been able to buy an iPad
for $7," Tyrrell joked.
It's best to
stick with e-commerce sites you know are real and go directly
to those websites. Don't click on Web ads.
the websites of companies you've previously done business with
can also save you time and hassle, says Steve Platt, a vice
president at credit monitoring company Experian.
retailers will be on the lookout for fraudsters too. That
means they might be more likely to flag a transaction ó and
slow down your shopping ó if they haven't dealt with you
more information they know about you and your purchases, the
more likely you'll have a seamless experience," Platt