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Shop safely online this holiday season with these top cybersecurity tips

by Kate Evans

As many Americans shop for holiday gifts online, hackers and scammers will be looking for weaknesses in their devices or internet connections or trying to elicit personal and financial information through fake websites or charities. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) officials say the best defense is awareness.

Government and cybersecurity agencies and banks have issued tips for people to better protect their personal information during the holiday season and year-round.

Shopping online can be safe and give shoppers access to unique items and great deals.

Taking certain precautions now will prevent a post-holiday financial headache.

Update your devices

Ensure before shopping that all internet-connected devices including PCs, smartphones and tablets are free from malware and infections by running only the most current versions of software, browsers and apps.

Use secure Wi-Fi instead of  public Wi-Fi to shop online as public Wi-Fi isn’t cyber safe.  Don’t make purchases or access important accounts like banking while connected to public Wi-Fi.  Use a virtual private network (VPN) or your phone as a hotspot.

Create long, unique passwords for all accounts.   Buy only from trusted, established online retailers.   Don’t open emails from unknown senders or click on links in suspicious messages.

Make sure you’re shopping on a secure website before you enter your personal information.  Check your browser’s address bar for a lock and look for “htpps” in the URL.  Sites that have “https” use encryption for your payment information or personal details.

IT officials say to use a credit card or pre-paid debit card to pay for your purchases instead of a debit card that’s linked to your bank account. Or you can use a reputable third-party payment service like PayPal, Google Pay or Apple Pay.

Monitor your accounts

Monitor your online accounts at your bank regularly for suspicious spending and sign up for bank text and email alert services.

The National Cybersecurity Alliance recommends paying close attention to your bank statements and credit card transactions.  Contact your bank or credit card institution immediately if there is any suspicious activity or you get charged for something you didn’t buy.

Be wary if someone online is charging a price that’s just too good to be true.  Do some comparative shopping research to have a good idea of what the item should really cost.


Use a strong user name and a unique, complex password that’s at least 12 characters long.  Mix in lower and upper case letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites. Consider using a password manager.

Don’t use characters from your email address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security Number or other recognizable personal information in your passwords.

Turn on automatic updates or install updates as soon as they are available.

If an online retailer is requesting more information than you are comfortable sharing, you may not have to fill in every field.  If you’re feeling pressured to share more personal information than you want to, find another retailer.

Use credit cards, PayPal

When shopping online, it’s best to use credit cards or payment services like PayPal.  Credit cards offer more protection and less liability. You’re at greater risk using your debit card which is linked directly to your bank account.

Don’t shop on public Wi-Fi networks, especially during the holiday season, as they aren’t secure.  Hackers could potentially access your usernames, passwords, texts and emails.

Updating your computer operating system, software and anti-virus software is essential to prevent criminals from accessing your information.  Updates improve your security.

Only use trusted apps from reliable shopping applications such as Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.  Check reviews by legitimate users if something seems off about an app.

Never save user names, passwords or credit card information in your browser and clear your content, cookies and history when you close your browser.

Consider checking out as a guest when shopping online instead of creating an account.  Use your private browser if you can.

Keep tabs on your credit score to make sure your personal data hasn’t fallen into the wrong hands with purchases you’ve never made.

   Safeguard PIN numbers

Truist Bank advises safeguarding your Personal Identification Number (PIN) numbers for your credit cards and memorizing them.  Don’t use obvious numbers like your birthday, address or other personal information.  Don’t share your PIN numbers with anyone.

Only shop on secure websites.  Spelling or grammatical errors indicate that the site may not be valid.  Report a lost or stolen card immediately.

Leave extra credit cards, checks, important documents, birth certificates or passports secured at home or in a safe deposit box.

Shred all sensitive documents before throwing them away.