Hackers can sometimes obtain private website information and steal your credit card details and other personal information. Once they have it, they can use it to make purchases with card numbers, or worse, apply for and open up other financial accounts using your identity.
To protect your identity while digital shopping, there are steps you can take, including shopping on private Wi-Fi networks and using a credit card for greater protection instead of a debit card.
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How to Prevent Fraud When Shopping Online
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent fraud or identity theft 100 percent, but you can help prevent it. Next time you shop online, try these four tips to reduce your risk of identity theft lenders review your past credit history to see how you’ve paid your bills over time. When lenders conduct a credit check, it typically involves one or both of these actions:
Only shop on private internet networks. When you surf the internet on pa public Wi-Fi network, you open yourself to hackers. The reason: public networks make it easier for hackers to capture and steal your sensitive information that requires entering your credit or debit card number or other sensitive information on your phone or computer, don’t do it on a public network. Instead, do it at home on your private network. You can also use a secure virtual private network (VPN) connection, so hackers can’t easily access your device. VPNs encrypt your data (convert your information into computer code, which means it can only be read at the end of the transmission and only with the right key.
Make sure the website is secure. Before making a purchase, check the website’s URL if it doesn’t begin with “https,” avoid it. Https indicates the website is securely connected, making it harder to hack. Look for the lock icon or “secure” call out in the web address bar that shows it’s a secure site.
Use a Credit Card
Use your credit card. Credit cards offer more protection for online purchases, like ensuring that you won’t be held responsible for fraudulently opened or used accounts. For instance, if someone steals your credit card for an online shopping spree, the most you would have to pay is $50. Most credit card issuers have a zero-liability policy that protection you from any responsibility for fraudulent purchases made with your account information. On the other hand, debit cards are not required to have as much consumer protection. These cards require you to report fraud by a specific date (though some card issuers may extended protections). Plus, until the issue is resolved, your money is debited from your checking account. If you use a credit card, while you may have less available credit until the incident is resolved, you won’t lose money.
Use your card’s security features. Some credit cards have special features with additional levels of protection for online shopping. For example, some card issuers offer virtual card numbers, giving you a temporary card number so companies (and hackers) can’t obtain and misuse your actual credit card number. If your virtual card number is compromised, all you need to do is cancel it and inform your issuer, instead of swapping out your payment details on every account. Finally, many credit cards let you set up alerts to notifications so you can spot suspicious purchases if they occur.
What Can You Do if You Suspect Identity Fraud
If you think your computer and account information has been hacked while shopping online, there are seven steps you can take to help protect your identity and your finances.
1. Report the Theft to the Federal Trade Commission
Once you share the incident details, the FTC will give you a personal recovery plan and an identity theft affidavit that can be used to file a police report. You can also create an FTC account to receive identity theft recovery step information and access to free resources, including form letters you can send to creditors and other organizations.
2. File a Report With Local Law Enforcement.
The process varies by location, so contact your local law enforcement agency to ask if you can make the report online or if it must be filed in person. You will need the report to prove you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
3. Contact Your Card Issuers
Don’t wait to inform your card issuer of the incident. The sooner you do, the sooner the compromised account can be canceled. Once reported, the card issuer will likely send you a new card with a different account number. They will also conduct a fraud investigation and remove any fraudulent charges from your account.
4. Contact One of the Three Major Credit Bureaus
After you inform one bureau (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax), the bureau will place a fraud alert on your report with them and notify the other two to do the same. However, note that this action does not prevent new credit activity. However, it does encourage creditors to take extra steps to verify your information before approving a credit application in your name. Fraud alerts last one year, but an extended fraud alert is effective for seven years. To place an extended fraud alert on your credit file, you need to separately contact each credit bureau and provide your FTC affidavit and police report.
5. Change Your Passwords
First, change your password on the compromised site, the card issuer site used to make the purchase and elsewhere, too, especially if you share passwords across sites, which you should never do.
6. Monitor Your Credit
After the identity theft incident, keep an eye on your credit reports to check for unauthorized activity. Remember, it may take weeks or even months for fraudulent activity to occur. If you see anything you suspicious, such as a new account you didn’t open, you can dispute the activity with the credit bureaus.
7. Freeze Your Credit
You should also consider freezing your credit file with all three credit bureaus to prevent new lines of credit from being opened with your personal information. If you apply for a new loan or credit card, or if a potential employer or landlord needs to check your credit, you will have to contact the bureaus and lift the freeze.
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