‘Tis the season for… cyber threats: How to stay safe online

The Monday after Thanksgiving is known as “Cyber Monday”–traditionally one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. In fact, The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that 42 percent of Americans plan to shop online this season.

Unfortunately, just as shoppers hit the Internet to search for deals, cybercriminals are trolling the Web for their next victims. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), November and December are the months when the majority of online identity theft problems occur. And, a significant increase in malicious shopping Web sites are launched between October and December, according to Webroot, an antivirus and antispyware software company.

Practice safe online techniques this holiday season. Protect your personal information and make the most of your cyber shopping experience with these online safety tips:

Think before you click. Never click links to unfamiliar Web sites. If you use a search engine to find gifts, treat every result with caution – especially the ones promising a link to an unbelievable deal.

Install security software. At a minimum, protect your PC with up-to-date security software and antivirus protection.

Know the retailer. If you are unfamiliar with the retailer you want to purchase from, look for more information about the company. Consider asking friends and family for recommendations.

Use a credit card, not a debit card. If you are a victim of fraud or cybercrime, most credit card agreements limit your liability for the charges.

Monitor your credit report. It is important to monitor your credit report on a regular basis to quickly spot anything unusual or suspicious. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for one free annual credit report from each of the three bureaus.

Keep your password safe. Never reveal your password to anyone. When selecting a password, do not use commonly known information, such as your birth date or driver’s license number. The best passwords are hard to guess and have at least eight characters and include numbers and letters.

Finally, only make purchases from secure Web sites. The easiest way to tell if a site is secure is to look at the web address on the page where you’re entering your credit card information. Secured Web site start with “https:” instead of “http:.” For more tips on how to stay safe while shopping online, visit the FTC’s “Fight Back Against Identity Theft” Web site.

Alexis Holloway is a former copywriter and e-Commerce Coordinator for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.