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Don’t let the ‘Cyber GRINCH’ steal your Christmas

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POLSON – Heather Miles, technology specialist at the North Lake County Public Library, has offered some simple, safe and secure online shopping tips for those who plan on shopping online.

“When shopping online, be sure to update your security software and check that your firewall and antivirus is working,” she said. 

While not all e-commerce sites provide the ideal conditions for safe online shopping, a quick and easy way to ensure the page is secured is to search for the ‘S’ and padlock symbol on the website’s URL bar (web address) before entering any personal or financial data into a website, she said.

According to Miles, “The URL on the payment page should start with “https://” rather than “http://” and should have a padlock symbol to indicate that the page is secure.”

When using your smartphone’s cellular network to browse the Internet, make sure you’re using a private Wi-Fi connection. Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously insecure and could open you up to malware or hacking, she said. Miles also suggests avoiding the same password for every online shopping site you frequent. Every website account should have its own unique individual password. “If your log-in information ever gets stolen on one website, your other accounts likely won’t get compromised,” she said. 

Miles said not to click on unfamiliar pop-up ads and unsolicited emails. Emails are a particularly common way for fraudsters to gain access to your credit card information or identity. Hackers send what’s called a “phishing email” in which they copy a store’s sale or discount email and include a link to a false portal asking for your financial and personal information. Cybercriminals aren’t only impersonating retailers. Major shipping companies like UPS, FedEx or DHL are being used in fake email scams. 

During the holidays, there’s an “explosion” of too-good-to-be-true deals. She warns consumers to regard sale-of-the-century price tags with a healthy dose of skepticism. Be suspicious of websites and unsolicited emails that offer hard-to-find items priced significantly lower than they should be, she said. “Low prices are enticing, but if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.” 

Many experts recommend that you pay with a low credit-limit credit card instead of debit cards or gift cards when shopping online and Miles agrees. “If that card number is stolen and misused by criminals, the damage will be limited,” Miles said.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers are only liable for up to $50 if someone steals the numbers and makes unauthorized fraudulent charges on the card. If you use your debit card, you have to file a claim and wait to get your money back. 

Experts also suggest that people keep a close eye on account statements. “Check your bank and credit card accounts at least once a week for any signs of fraud,” said Miles. “Another way to help protect your accounts is to set up monitoring alerts that can alert you to every transaction over a certain dollar amount.”

If you require more information on online shopping or have any questions, contact Miles by email at hmiles@polson.lib.mt.us or call 406-883-8225.

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