Here's How to Stay Safe While Online Shopping | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Holiday Gift Guide 2016

Holiday Gift Guide 2016

Here's How to Stay Safe While Online Shopping

Bree Fowler

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    An online shopper searches different sites, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, from Miami.

    'Tis the season to be jolly — but it's also the season for identity theft, phishing and credit card fraud.

    With Christmas just days away, people are using their smartphones and other devices to get a handle on their last-minute shopping. Hackers are on the hunt as well, looking to steal personal information from easy targets.

    "People just need to have their radar up, so that when they're trying to get their perfect gift to grandma's house in time for Christmas day, they're not clicking on things they shouldn't," says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

    Here are some tips for staying safe this holiday season.

    Best, Worst Stores for Gift Returns

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    Consumer Reports checks out the five best and the five worst major retailers for returns. Among the best are Nordstrom and L.L. Bean, which both allow returns with no receipts and no time limit. Sears and Barnes and Noble are listed as among the worst retailers to return items to for their more restrictive policies.
    (Published Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016)

    YOU'D BETTER WATCH OUT
    Make sure your phone's operating system and all the apps you use to shop are up to date. That way you'll have the fixes for any recently discovered security problems.

    You should also enable multi-factor authentication in the settings on your important accounts. This is a security measure that requires you to enter a temporary code in addition to your password when signing in; services often text this code to your phone. It complicates life for hackers should they somehow manage to get your password.

    Improvements in credit card fraud detection have pushed hackers to focus on stealing legitimate login credentials, so adding an extra layer of protection to these accounts is a must, says John Dickson with the cybersecurity firm Denim Group.

    And while some cybersecurity experts question the value of changing your password frequently, Dickson says it's not a bad idea this time of year.

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    (Published Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016)

    "If you had a New Year's resolution to change your passwords, move that up by about four weeks, because this is fraudster season," Dickson says.

    SANTA (AND HACKERS) ARE WATCHING
    Nobody likes to dip into their mobile-data plan, but you might want to set aside a few gigabytes for your holiday shopping.

    Signing on to free Wi-Fi at a store or coffee shop can be risky. Hackers could be lurking on the networks, ready to use that connection to steal credit-card numbers or other personal information. If you're using free Wi-Fi, at least wait till you get home to check your bank account balances, Kaiser says.

    FEAST OF THE PHISHES
    Phishing spikes during the holiday season. Emails that offer great deals on holiday gifts or donation pitches from charities could actually be attempts to steal your credit card or login information. Another popular trick: Fake emails supposedly sent by online retailers or shipping companies.

    Don't click on links in these emails, as they may lead you to a fake website that looks legitimate. Instead, type in the company's website directly.

    CHECKING IT TWICE (OR MORE)
    Shoppers need to keep a close eye on their accounts. The easiest way to do this is to use the same credit card for all of your holiday shopping. Avoid debit cards — running up a credit card balance is one thing and can be challenged; draining your life's savings is another.

    Use different passwords for your various shopping accounts. That way if one is compromised, it's less likely that the others will fall to hackers as well.

    NAUGHTY OR NICE?
    Websites that advertise hot deals on popular or hard-to-find gifts are probably scams. So are those touting free or deeply discounted gift cards. Stick with e-commerce sites you know are real. Don't click on web ads.

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    (Published Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016)

    And if something advertised on a website or social media looks too good to be true, it probably is, says Brian Reed, chief marketing officer for ZeroFox, a cybersecurity firm that focuses on social media.

    Instead of getting a great deal on a North Face jacket or a free iPhone, shoppers are getting their money and personal information stolen.

    Also avoid apps that promise to generate gift card codes for various retailers, Reed says. The apps can harm your device. And, if you manage to use a code, you're committing fraud.

    GIVING THE GIFT OF IOT
    Internet-connected gadgets — whether they be a "smart" thermostat, baby monitor or a talking toy — will be under many trees this year.

    Toy Drive Collects Gifts Black Kids Can See Themselves In

    [NATL] 'Black Girl Magic' Toy Drive Collects Gifts Black Kids Can See Themselves In
    An Ohio toy drive is seeking dolls and other toys specifically for African-American girls. Franklin County Children Services said many of the kids they serve rarely get gifts that look like them. Organizers of the "Black Girl Magic" toy drive are asking for culturally specific toys and books that black girls can connect to and relate with.
    Frieda McKarn, 67, is known as the head elf in a Santa workshop of sorts where Franklin County Children Services will give out gifts to 6,000 kids this Christmas. She said toys and gifts tailored for black girls are rarely seen on the shelves. "What gets me choked up is that I see or children struggling to identify and thinking that they're not worthy and they are," said McKarn.
    (Published Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016)

    But the lack of security built into many of these devices is becoming an issue. Experts worry that they could be used to breach a home or business network and let hackers access another device that holds private information.

    There's no way to tell from its box how secure any given gadget is, but an online search could fill you in on previously reported problems.

    Default passwords should be changed right away, if possible. Do some research to understand exactly what personal information the device is collecting and where it's being stored or sent.

    Down the road, make sure your smart devices get their security updates. That includes your wireless router. If it's an older model, you're probably going to need to get them from the manufacturer's website. Newer models often send updates through apps.

    And if your router is really old and not getting updates, you might want to add that to your gift list.

    "If that's your gateway and it's not secure, then you're allowing people to get into all of the devices connected to it," Kaiser says.