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North Hills Monthly

Tips for Safe Online and Offline Shopping

Nov 01, 2016 06:47AM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

It’s that time of year again—the holiday season! The time when just trying to keep up with the regular daily schedule makes you want to pour a glass of wine, plop down on the couch with your laptop and wallet, and turn to online shopping without a second thought.

Online merchandisers like Amazon and Boxed, and online meal delivery services including Blue Apron and Freshly can help make your to-do list shorter this holiday, but it’s important to remember that it is also a prime time for shoppers to be targeted by scammers and cybercriminals.

According to a recent collaborative study published by the OC&C Strategy Consultants, PayPal and Google, the online retail markets in the US, UK, Germany and China will double to $786 billion by 2018. This number is highly attractive to cybercriminals who are keen on exploiting individuals who benefit from the convenience, affordability and choices that makes the Internet such a compelling place to be.

Erik Ligda, an independent cybersecurity researcher located in Cranberry, is quick to remind consumers that anything connected to the Internet, including smartphones and tablets, need to be protected just as much as computers and laptops—especially during heavy use periods like the holidays. “Being a safe online shopper starts with taking security precautions and thinking about the consequences of your actions online,” he said. 

Ligda offers the following tips:

• Use well-known and established retailers such as Amazon. Larger organizations typically have teams of people working behind the scenes to protect your information and identify fraudulent activity.

• Make sure all transactions are encrypted. “The website will begin with ‘https’ and typically include a lock. If the lock is not there, or the ‘https’ has a line through it, assume the traffic is not encrypted and is liable to interception,” Ligda said.

• Avoid using debit cards for online transactions. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card tops out at $50, while debit card losses scale from $50 to the full amount lost, depending on how long you wait to file a claim. “Additionally, debit cards have direct access to your banking accounts, while with credit cards you are borrowing money that you will pay back at a later date,” said Ligda.

• Consistently monitor your accounts. The earlier you can detect fraudulent activity, the better chances you have at recovering the stolen funds. Many credit card issuers provide a means to be alerted to activity. Ligda, for example, receives a text message anytime his card is used.

• Keep a record of your banking and credit cards. Store customer contact information in your phone so you can easily cancel your card if it gets lost or stolen.

Finally, as an added precaution, Ligda suggests ordering a free copy of your credit report ( right now. Federal law requires each of the three major credit reporting services to provide one free copy of your credit report every 12 months. 

“This will serve as a pre-fraud starting point in case something fraudulent happens in the future as a result of a breach at, say, a local retail store,” he explained.

Safe Shopping Offline

Ligda also warned that scammers and cybercriminals can target physical shoppers as well. 

“The issue of stolen credit cards extends beyond just online shopping. You can be compromised at gas pumps and ATMs by skimmers,” he said. “Your information can be stolen when dining at a restaurant. Think about it—how many times do you give the waiter your card and you don’t know where they take it?”

Safe online shopping is not just about stolen credit cards, though. It’s also important to remain safe when meeting someone in person for a transaction you started online. In May, the Cranberry Township Municipal Center designated two parking spaces for short-term use by individuals who may be exchanging goods bought online, transferring child custody, or handling other sensitive face-to-face transactions. 

The spaces are clearly marked and video-monitored 24/7 and are intended to provide a safe neutral ground where the parties can meet and transact their business in close proximity to the Cranberry Police Department, according to the township’s website. The department cautions, however, that its officers neither participate, nor act, as official witnesses to these transactions. 

Armed with these thoughts, enjoy the conveniences of technology with peace of mind while you shop this holiday.It’s that time of year again—the holiday season!