How to protect yourself from holiday cyber scams

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As the holiday season picks up and as we shop till we drop, cyber crooks are also out there getting into the Christmas spirit.  Personal finance expert Ross Kenneth Urken shares tips on how to stay safe.


This is your golden ticket to staying safe — It’s time to do away with the physical plastic and for online shopping, enter: the virtual credit card number. Think of it as a burner card. It’s a temporary number that’s still tied to your account, but if a crook gets a hold of it, he’d be useless with the information. The virtual cards have varying expiration dates and sometimes lower spending limits, but Bank of America and Citi have great options, as do Visa and Mastercard. You know the thieves are ruthless when they’re even compromising credit card data at Forever 21. It’s time to protect yourself.


Always examine URLs, particularly during this time of year. Make sure your retail and commerce sites have “https” in the URL, not just “http.” The “S” stands for secure. You can also look for the padlock symbol in your address bar, and it protects the privacy and integrity of all the data you’re exchanging on your searches and purchases, including sensitive credit card information.


Authenticate your identity by having your mobile phone on file, and receiving a text with code that grants you access to a site used to be the relegated to the domain of banks. Now, even sites like Amazon allow it. It’s winning trinity combo – good, fast, and cheap – and will protect you.


As shopping is increasingly mobile, we might be running errands and play Santa at a local coffee shop or the food court at the mall. It may be tempting and seem efficient to get shopping done on the go, but public Wi-Fi networks are going to add some real Ba-Humbug to your holiday season. It’s best to wait for a password-protected network. Your home Wi-Fi is your safest best. To that end, don’t leave your information logged in on your go-to shopping sites. It’s ideal to have more password protection by typing it in each time.


By now, we’re used to getting Phishing scam emails, with plausible deals and questionable, but decent English. However, the big scam this year is package delivery alerts. Maybe it’s something you sent to your in-laws. Maybe it’s something that’s coming to you. Don’t be gullible. Don’t click on suspicious links. If anything, contact the parcel delivery service or the commerce company for clarification.


Get shopping safely now. Otherwise, you’re not going to smell just peppermint-spiced lattes this season, but rather, the whiff of your own desperation.