Nearly 600,000 South Carolinians had private information such as passwords, debit card data and Social Security numbers breached in just three months this year, from July through October, according to the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
Cyber Monday this week, when U.S. consumers are by one official estimate expected to spend more than $10 billion online, could be a heyday for scammers if shoppers aren't careful.
Of course, you can avoid most data theft dangers and support jobs in the community by shopping at local store and paying in cash, but once you go online or pay electronically, it's more of a challenge. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- When shopping online, only shop at trusted websites. The S.C. Department of Revenue warns: "Some sites exist just to collect credit card information and offer rock-bottom prices to lure shoppers." Secure site addresses begin with "https" and include a padlock symbol.
- Be extremely careful clicking on links in emails. "Phishing" come-ons are common and usually involve emails that appear to be from a person or company you trust, with a link that if clicked can steal your data or infect your computer with malicious software.
- Don't shop while using public Wi-Fi. It's tempting, sure, but it's called "public" Wi-Fi for a reason. "Cyber thieves like public Wi-Fi because they can intercept shoppers' signals and collect credit card information and other personal data, like names and addresses," the state tax department said. "Consider installing a VPN, which creates a secure connection to shield you from hackers."
- If you're paying with plastic, use credit cards. I've long advocated using credit cards instead of debit cards, and SCDOR agrees. Debit cards are a potential doorway to your bank account. So, use credit, and pay the bill in full and on time to avoid interest charges.
"You get the best liability protection when you use a credit card," SCDOR said. "Most credit card companies offer $0 liability for fraudulent purchases."
It's important to be vigilant. Save receipts, check bank and credit card statements, and check out any suspicious activity right away. Reporting fraudulent activity promptly protects you from liability.
The next step, if you're shopping online, is figuring out how to get your purchase delivered without being stolen. Thefts of packages left on doorsteps and porches have become common.
One solution is to have your online purchases delivered to a secure location at no extra cost.
Amazon will deliver purchases (with some size limits) to secure Amazon Hub Lockers in most larger cities, notably at Whole Foods stores. Customers get a code that will open the lockers so they can retrieve their items.
FedEx and UPS also offer to ship packages to secure locations, typically inside company or retail stores. TIP: UPS is offering incentives including Target gift cards to encourage use of their Access Point service.
Having packages shipped to your place of work may also be a good way to keep them from being left on your porch and stolen, but check company policies first.