Top 5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

TORONTO – Between scooping up Black Friday door crashers and finding those perfect holiday gifts, your credit card is bound to get a workout this season – and many of those purchases will be made online.

November and December are the busiest months for online shopping and more Canadians are taking to their computers to shop in an effort to avoid retail madness.

But the holidays are also the busiest time of year for another group of people – cyber criminals.

READ MORE: How to recognize and avoid online phishing scams

“This is a really big period of the year for cyber criminals because there is a huge bump in the level of online transactions,” said Stefano Tiranardi, information protection specialist at Symantec Canada.

“They are going to be looking for vulnerable websites and build fake ones in order to trick consumers.”

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Credit card security is top of mind for many consumers after multiple high profile data breaches at Canadian retailers this year. However, these breaches – like the one that affected over 56 million Home Depot customers in Canada and the U.S. – occurred in the stores themselves.

Consumers face a number of different risks when shopping online, from fake websites designed to steal user data to unsecure connections that could allow a hacker to see all of your credit card information.

So what can you do to protect your data when shopping online?

Make sure the site you are ordering from is legit

A common trick that cyber criminals use to trick people into handing over credit card information is setting up a fake website that mimics a popular website.

“If I were interested in compromising a high volume site – say Amazon – one of the easiest ways would be through a man in the middle attack. A site that looks exactly like Amazon, but isn’t secure and makes it very secure to steal credit card information and personal information,” said Tiranardi.

“If it’s attracting a high volume of consumers, you can rest assured it’s attracting a huge volume of cyber criminals.”

Before you start shopping on any website, make sure you verify it’s the company’s official webpage. Sometimes the URL of a fake site will look very similar to the real URL but it will be one or two letters off.

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Pay attention to security settings in your web browser

If you are planning to enter any sort of personal or financial information on a webpage, make sure you are using a secure connection. These are usually identified by a closed padlock symbol in the top left hand side of your web browser beside the URL.

Sites with secure connections should start with “https” in the URL – “s” stands for “secure.”

Have one designated card (with a low credit limit) for online shopping

Some experts recommend users designate one credit card for their online shopping.

Robert Siciliano, McAfee online security expert, cautioned that this approach should only be done with cards that have low limits – that way if the card is compromised, criminals can’t rack up too many charges.

Tiranardi said this would be a good option for someone who doesn’t do a lot of online shopping and usually sticks to a few trusted sites.

Choose your payment method in relation to how much trust you have in the site you are shopping on

Tiranardi added that consumers should choose their payment method in relation to the level of risk associated with the purchase they are making. For example, if you are ordering something from a site you aren’t familiar with, choose a card with a lower credit limit.

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Make sure your device and network are secure

“Wireless is generally inherently insecure,” cautioned Siciliano, who added consumers should be wary of using public Wi-Fi for online shopping due to the lack of security.

“Make sure your device itself is secure. That means making sure you have the latest version of your operating system, update your security setting and install an anti-virus or firewall solution.”

Don’t panic

At the end of the day, being proactive about security is the best thing you can do to protect yourself online.

“Don’t worry about any of this stuff – do something about it,” he said.

“You should act on making sure that all of your devices are secure and that you are checking your bank statements. Down the road you are going to be in a much better position than someone that hasn’t been taking those steps.

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