Staying safe while shopping online this holiday season

It’s the time of year when malls are over-crowded with holiday shoppers and the streets are extra congested with people traveling to visit family and friends, or to pick up last-minute holiday supplies. This alone is enough to motivate buyers to do the majority, if not all, of their holiday shopping online. The ability to avoid the lines and still take advantage of sales, coupled with the convenience of shopping from the comfort of home means that online shopping is likely to be at an all-time high this year. 

With that in mind, it is more important than ever to be conscious of how and where you are shopping on the Web. Below are eight tips we have put together to help keep you from falling victim to online shopping scams this holiday season.

1. Use familiar websites that you trust.

Consider shopping only on sites you have had success with in the past, and that you trust. Some online retail websites are fabricated to look like legitimate businesses, but they are just looking to gain access to your credit card information. If the deal seems too good to pass up, then do your research and check reviews before finalizing your purchase.

2. Check bank and credit card statements regularly.

The weeks and months that precede the holidays is prime time for scammers to make unauthorized charges on stolen cards. While you are busy swiping away (both online and at brick and mortar shops), it can be easy to miss the purchase you didn’t make amidst a long list of charges on your statement. Or to even think that it is one you didn’t remember making! Be sure to scrutinize your statements often, or even set up account alerts, and quickly dispute any purchases that you did not authorize. 

3. Create strong, unique passwords.

At BGSU we require you to create strong passwords and change them often, in order to better protect your personal information. The same should be true of your online shopping account passwords. We suggest creating unique passwords for each of these accounts, and following the Tips to Create a Strong Password information available on our Password Tips webpage

4. Avoid using public Wi-Fi when shopping; stick to private.

It is best to avoid using open, public Wi-Fi (like networks available at a coffee shop or airport) when shopping online. Free wireless networks make it much easier for hackers to intercept and steal the personal data you may be entering when making a purchase. 

5. Beware of email phishing scams.

Now is the time of year when phishing emails are coming at you from all angles and can sneak right in between all the other legitimate email promotions filling up your inbox with coupons and discount codes. Double check the sender name and email account, and if you are at all suspicious delete the message, don’t click on the links and don’t open any attachments. More details on identifying phishing emails can be found at www.bgsu.edu/phishing

6. Don’t overshare.

No shopping website should ever need your Social Security number (SSN) in order to complete a transaction. If you are curious as to why a specific piece of information is being requested, call the customer service line for more details. And remember, you technically only need to complete the required fields when checking out. 

7. Verify website security. 

Be sure to double-check website security from the business you are purchasing from. We first suggest looking at the left corner of the URL to confirm that there is a padlock icon, and that the URL begins with https. These two details indicate that the site should have an extra layer of security attached to it. So, if you do not see those two things, empty your shopping cart and head over to a new site. However, scammers now have the ability to fabricate these icons to make the site LOOK legitimate, when it really is not. Thus, do not use this as your ONLY method of verification. Other ways to verify web security include evaluating the website’s URL (look for domains that imitate actual businesses, multiple dashes or symbols in the domain name, etc.) and audit the actual website for poor grammar and/or misspelled words. 

8. Save all records & receipts

Keep all your purchase receipts, order confirmations and tracking numbers in a safe, organized place. These may come in handy if you have a problem with an order, never receive your package in the mail or get double charged for an item.

If you have any questions while checking off items on your shopping list, please consider reaching out to the BGSU Information Security team at infosec@bgsu.edu. Happy Holidays!

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