News & Events

8 Tips to Keep Your Credit Cards Safe During the Holidays

It’s hard to believe, but the holiday season officially kicks off next week. Unfortunately, this is a key time for cybercriminals to take advantage of internet users.

It’s estimated there will be billions of dollars in losses this holiday season resulting from stolen credit and payment card information from online shoppers. U.S. consumers alone will spend more than $100 billion on e-commerce this holiday season, and it’s easy to see why. Online shopping is very attractive. It’s easy and convenient—especially during the holidays—thanks to special offers on all kinds of products.

When shopping this holiday season, be sure to keep these tips in mind to keep your credit cards safe.

1. Use a Credit Card, not a Debit Card

If you’re the victim of fraud or theft with a debit card, the money is siphoned out of your account immediately. With debit cards, you’re not protected by the same laws that protect credit cards. If someone accesses your debit card account, they can drain your tied bank accounts immediately with little recourse. The good news: with a credit card, federal law limits your liability for fraud or unauthorized use. When fraud occurs, you can retrieve your losses by simply disputing the charges by filing a fraud claim with your credit card provider.

2. Don’t Store Your Card Information on a Website

When your computer asks if it should “remember” your site password automatically, the correct answer is “no.” You may have to uncheck a box to do this. Similarly, as you’re making a purchase, the site itself will likely ask if it should remember your card information for future purchases. Always choose “no.” The last thing you want is to allow someone else to access the site and “one-click” shop using your stored card information.

3. Consider Using a Virtual or “Disposable” Credit Card Number

One more way to safeguard your card information when shopping online is to use a virtual or disposable credit card number. While disposable numbers are not available with every credit card, it’s something that a number of the major issuers are offering. Your card issuer gives you an alternate number to use when you check out online. The disposable number still links to your accounts, but is temporary, and you can limit the amount of money you allow to be transferred.

You can also buy preloaded cards to use specifically for your online shopping. It’s a good way to limit risk and direct access to your bank accounts.

4. Monitor Account Activity and Boost Anti-Fraud Measures

Many credit card issuers allow you to sign up for transaction alerts that will notify you when a purchase has been made over a set amount, which can help you monitor your account. Some issuers will even let you tie in the location of your smartphone to your credit card. This way, if a purchase is made in Tampa, Fla., and you are in Chicago, that transaction will not process. It’s a great idea to call your credit card issuer and set these up ahead of your holiday shopping. Regularly log in to your account online to keep tabs on your account activity. If you notice anything questionable, report it right away.

5. Look for http “s” Before Purchasing

Ensure the site you are visiting is secure before purchasing by looking for the “https://” in the browser’s address bar before you provide your credit card information. The “s” stands for secure and should appear on all web pages that require disclosing financial information. If it’s not there, the site is not secure, and you should not continue with any transactions.

6. Be Wary of Emails Requesting Information

According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, attackers may attempt to gather information by sending emails requesting that you confirm purchase or account information. Legitimate businesses will not solicit this type of information through email. Do not provide sensitive information through email. If you receive an unsolicited email from a business, instead of clicking on the provided link, directly log on to the authentic website by typing the address yourself.

7. Be Careful of Unfamiliar Websites

“Typosquatting,” also called URL hijacking, is what may occur when you mistype a website name and don’t realize it. Scammers will set up fake domain names that are just a letter or two off from popular sites in anticipation that they will be able to prosper out of traffic from unintentional misspellings made by browsing shoppers. Those who normally type quickly and rely heavily on autocorrect are especially prone to becoming victims. This can result in Amazon becoming Amazone or Amazne.

If you are unsure how to spell the name of a website, look for it by using a reputable search engine and double check the URL to make sure you are in the right place. Bookmark the pages you visit most often to make navigating easier and less of a hassle.

8. Assume Public Wi-Fi is Not Secure

Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, and other public places are convenient, but often not secure. Online shoppers don’t realize that cyber thieves can grab their wireless data at Wi-Fi hotspots, because the majority of these places don’t encrypt the information you send over the internet. If a network doesn’t require a password, it’s safe to assume it is not secure.

When using a hotspot, only log in to websites you know to be secure and be sure your entire visit is encrypted from the time you log in to when you log out. You can do this by looking for the “https” at the start of the URL address or look for the security padlock sign. Don’t stay permanently signed in to any accounts, and never use the same password on different websites. Also, it’s a good idea to change the settings on your mobile devices so they don’t automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi.

Bottom Line

Take extra precautions while shopping this holiday season. Cyber criminals know we’re all conducting more business online than ever, and they’re always looking for ways to target unsuspecting consumers. For more tips, visit the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Shopping Safely Online tip sheet. You can also check out Tips to Avoid Identity Theft or Fraud.