Protecting Your Identity and Credit Information During The Holidays

The holiday shopping season is an annual bonanza for consumers, businesses, and the national bottom line. In 2020, shoppers spent a record $14 billion on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, according to Forbes. Data from Adobe Digital Index, which reports on digital marketing trends for senior executives, indicates that Cyber Monday injected close to $11 billion into the economy, a 15.1% increase over the year before. Some 37% of cyber sales originated from mobile devices.

As pleased as shoppers and retailers may have been, another group also made out like bandits on the biggest shopping days of the year: hackers and identity thieves.

With the holidays approaching, protecting your credit cards, passwords, and identity can be as important as making a shopping list. According to cybersecurity professionals who work with major corporations and organizations to prevent fraud and strengthen security measures, consumers who are vigilant and prepared can avoid being victims this season.

Mall watchers

Although online sales have increased dramatically — with North American net sales of $67.55 billion that represents an increase of 21.9% in the second quarter of 2020 — brick and mortar sales are still a mainstay of the holiday season.

Safe shopping at retail stores starts with awareness: know who’s nearby and what’s going on around you. Is someone standing too close to you in line? Are they secretly taking pictures with a cell phone? The person next to you or behind you could be a “shoulder surfer” trying to photograph your credit card information from behind.

To thwart shoulder surfers, only take your card out when you’re ready to pay. Use your hand to cover your name and card number and be sure to shield the machine if you use a debit card and have to input your PIN.

Limit what you carry with you so you can keep your hands free as much as possible. You don’t want to be constantly putting down a purse or other items that could be left behind in the shopping rush. You’ll need your driver’s license, but not other credit or ID cards. Always leave your Social Security card at home in a safe place.

The safest way to shop is to use credit cards rather than debit cards, cash, or checks. Federal law guarantees your protection when you use a credit card. You won’t be charged for fraudulent purchases and should receive a quick refund from the credit card issuer or the merchant.

Cyber shopping savvy

Online shopping is edging out the traditional retail model, especially during the holidays. Before clicking on links or handing over credit card information, be sure you are shopping safely online.

  1. Is the website you’re buying from legitimate and safe? Look for a closed padlock on the address bar of the browser and an address that begins with “https.” The “s” means the site is encrypted and online sales are secure.
  2. Perform credit card transactions on secure networks, not on public Wi-Fi. Thieves can easily hack public networks and steal information. If you don’t have access to a secure network, clear the browser and cache after making an online credit card transaction.
  3. Don’t store card numbers in browsers or online accounts where the information could be vulnerable to hackers. When checking out, give as little information as possible. Fill the required fields, nothing more, and check out as “guest” if the website offers it as an option. The less information you have stored on the website, the lower your risk in the event of a data breach.
  4. Rein in your enthusiasm. Be wary of pop-ups, redirects, or anything that looks like a fake page, warned the cybersecurity company ZeroFox. Hover over links before clicking on them and be alert for misspellings or anything that doesn’t seem authentic.
  5. Coupons or discounts that look too good to be true are likely to be scams, so don’t click on anything sent through social media or an email – go directly to the site to verify coupons or other offers. Hackers can build fake but convincing social media profiles in about 10 minutes, then use them to launch phishing or malware attacks, according to ZeroFox.

Fight fraud

Most credit card issuers are pretty good at fraud detection, alerting consumers or suspending cards if they suspect unauthorized activity. Review your card’s fraud policy and update your settings if necessary. Have emails sent directly to you to alert you to each and every purchase. Make sure your address and phone number are correct so the credit card issuer can reach you. Contact the card issuer if you are planning to do any shopping while traveling.

Protect your CVV code. The three-digit number printed on the back of most cards is used to verify that the card is physically present during a transaction. Internet retailers may request the number because it helps them prevent fraud and verify that the real cardholder is placing the order. Be wary of emails from credit card thieves posing as your card issuer and asking for the number – your real credit card issuer will never ask for your CVV number in an email.

Finally, check your statements and make sure you recognize all purchases, even the small ones, and alert the card issuer if you see anything suspicious.

About Maryville University’s online degree in cybersecurity

Maryville University offers both undergraduate and master’s degrees in cybersecurity, studying topics such as cryptography, cloud security, incident handling, and mobile device handling. Students can learn from anywhere, on any device, with the Maryville Virtual Lab as their training ground.

Learn more about Maryville University’s cybersecurity degree programs.


CNBC, “Online sales reach $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, the biggest U.S. e-commerce day ever, Adobe says”

DigitalCommerce360, “Amazon’s profits keep rolling in even as sales growth slows in Q2”

Forbes, “Online Customer Spend $14 Billion On Black Friday and Thanksgiving: By the Numbers”

ZeroFox, “Avoid Online Shopping Scams and Fake Deals Black Friday”

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