In the U.S. the Thanksgiving Day holiday marks the start of the holiday shopping season for most consumers. This time also offers hackers, identity thieves, and criminals the opportunity they’ve been waiting for—to steal your identity and your money. Crowded retail stores, consumers clamoring for the best online shopping deals, and shoppers too busy to notice the fraud can have serious consequences for consumers and businesses alike.
How can you protect yourself from identity theft and financial fraud?
Here are 10 actions you can do to thwart hackers and identity thieves:
- Look at which companies are properly encrypting your data before you buy online this holiday season. (Lifehacker: Which Companies Are Encrypting Your Data Properly? –http://gizmodo.com/which-companies-are-encrypting-your-data-properly-1468088449)
- Password protect your smartphone. Don’t forget to enable the screen lock feature to automatically lock your phone after a few minutes of inactivity.
- Use built-in encryption to protect the data on your smartphone in case of loss or theft.
- Use anti-virus protection on your smart phone. Read what independent security reviewers and researchers say about these anti-malware products. (See: http://www.av-test.org/en/tests/mobile-devices/android/sep-2013/)
- Be careful of social media apps on your smartphone that give geo-location (GPS) on your activities. Burglars or stalkers can use GPS coordinates embedded in your Twitter feed or pictures uploaded to sites like Instagram to track your location. Don’t put pictures of your new Rolex watch or new iPad on social media—you’re only inviting burglars to steal from you. Hint: Disable geo-location (GPS) permissions for your social media apps.
- Enjoy your favorite Starbucks or Coffee House, and skip the free Wi-Fi. Most free Wi-Fi offered in restaurants or airports do not use any data encryption to protect your connection. Hackers or identity thieves to steal your passwords, e-mails, and credit card information if you are doing online shopping while connected to unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots while drinking your favorite Pumpkin Spice Latte! If you must use free Wi-Fi, be sure to use a personal VPN connection to encrypt any data from your smartphone, tablet device, or laptop computer. (See: www.witopia.net or www.anonine.com/en)
- Check your credit and debit card statements carefully. When you get home after shopping, use your home computer to check your credit and debit card statements carefully. While banks watch for irregular financial activity on your financial accounts, they are not perfect. Take personal responsibility for ensuring your personal and financial information is secure. Reviewing your billing statements will help you find quickly if there is any fraud or errors as a result of your holiday shopping and entertainment activities. If you suspect fraud, call your bank or financial institution immediately and report any irregularities.
- Be careful when reading and clicking on web links in e-mail you receive during the holidays. Hackers and identity thieves take advantage of your holiday spirit. If a deal looks too good to be true, be careful when clicking web links received via e-mail. Clicking on web links that are not legitimate or from trusted sources, could lead to your computer being infected with malware that can be exploited by hackers and identity thieves to steal your personal and financial information.
- Watch for charity scams. Though you are generous and want to share with others less fortunate, be careful about making financial donations online. Don’t click on web links received via e-mail—go directly to the websites for recognized charities and find out how to make donations directly to them. Don’t let your goodwill be taken advantage of by criminals. Help those in need by being smart about how you give to charities.
- Disable Bluetooth on your smartphone if you are not using it. Cyber thieves can connect to the smartphone in your pocket via Bluetooth and steal your personal information.