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Posted on DEC 5, 2018

Shopping Online for the Holidays? Savvy Ways to Stay Safe and Secure

Merchants offer holiday merchandise and displays earlier each year, often weeks before Halloween. However, that hasn't affected the growing shift toward shopping and buying gifts online instead of in stores. As consumers increasingly turn to online shopping, it's vital to be aware of potential fraud and take steps to protect your identity as well as your purchases.

The Deloitte 2018 Holiday Survey shows that online gift purchases continue to grow in the U.S., with 57 percent of holiday purchases expected to be online, a six percent increase over last year. Mobile purchases are increasing while buying via desktop, laptop and social media appears to be slowing down. More than half of holiday shoppers (53 percent) begin their gift research online, compared to just 16 percent who start shopping in brick and mortar stores. And most holiday shoppers (78 percent) expect to spend more this year than last year.

A reported 81 million people shopped online on Cyber Monday alone in 2017, racking up $6.59 billion in sales, a 16.8 percent increase over 2016 according to Adobe.com. In 2018, shoppers spent a record $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday, an increase of 19.3 percent over 2017.

This steady increase in e‐commerce makes it ever more important to take steps to safeguard your holiday shopping. According to benchmark data from ACI Worldwide, a global electronics services firm, there was a 22 percent year‐over‐year increase in fraudulent purchase attempts between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve 2017, with spikes on Thanksgiving, cut‐off dates for express shipping and on Christmas Eve.

So, how can you protect your personal information and minimize potential fraud? Here are some tips for safer online holiday shopping:

Know Your Merchants
Before handing over your credit card number, verify the company or seller. If the website looks suspicious—perhaps it's disorganized or looks amateur—take a step back and research the seller's history. A reputable seller will include information such as a mailing address, phone number and detailed item description in an easy‐to‐find location. You may want to check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission to make sure the company is legitimate.

Watch Out for Fakes
Fake online stores abound, tricking shoppers into paying for merchandise they will never receive. Fake websites, shopping apps or emails often use URLs or brand names that are misspelled slightly or shortened such as those commonly used in Tweets. The logos can appear to be authentic. All of these scams are seeking your credit card information so they can steal your identity. If you are in doubt, type the retailer's website directly to shop.

Look For https When Making an Online Purchase
Look for https in a website's URL. The “s” stands for secure and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted. Also check that the website has security features that will encrypt your information as its being transferred to the seller's database. You should see a small padlock appear on your browser indicating the transaction is secure.

Update Your Mobile Devices and Computers
Keep the operating system and application software secure by updating or patching on all of your computers and mobile devices. Check to see that your anti‐virus/anti‐spyware software is running and receiving automatic updates.

Use Strong Passwords
Choose a password that includes letters, numbers, special characters and upper and lower case letters, and try to use a unique password for every site.

Protect Your Personal Information
Don't share passwords or other personal information with others, and don't provide sensitive information over unencrypted websites. Avoid clicking on or opening unfamiliar websites or emails—they could be from scammers seeking to steal your identity.

Avoid Public Wi‐Fi
It's convenient to use a laptop, tablet, or smartphone in your neighborhood coffee shop or restaurant, but that free Wi‐Fi is open to everyone—including cyber criminals. Never use an unsecured network to shop and that includes in your home. If you don't have a password protected network for your home, get one.

Review Privacy Policies
Read the retailer's website privacy policy carefully to determine what information the merchant is collecting about you, how it will be stored, how it will be used and whether it will be shared with outside parties.

To learn more about protecting your financial information contact a Johnson Financial Group advisor or visit the Security Center to stay up‐to‐date on recent scam alerts.