Science & Technology, Student Life

Phishing for a steal during the holidays

In the month between Black Friday and Boxing Day, people everywhere deck the Internet with their credit card numbers. Maybe this year Amazon’s servers will finally crash, but it’s more likely that you, or one of your friends, will have their identity stolen as a result of a careless online shopping spree. Online retailer traffic usually doubles or triples around the holiday season, and more shoppers means more opportunities for thieves to nab identities. Here are a few things you can do to keep your bank account safe during this holiday season.

Avoid Unknown Sites

There are dozens of places to get great deals during the holiday season, but search engines are not one of them. Sticking to sites that you know and trust, like Amazon, eBay, and Apple, is more important than you might think. There are a number of websites out there that claim to offer great deals, when all they’re really looking for is great deals themselves­—on your credit card. Many of these phishers work successfully on search engine optimization—getting themselves to show up higher on the page results of search engines like Google and Bing.

Secure Shopping Layer

As exciting as it might be to see those new Uggs on sale for only $200 when you’re studying at Second Cup, it might be a good idea to wait until you get home to make the purchase. Some less popular sites do not use secure socket layer (SSL) encryption when making server requests with your sensitive information. This problem was demonstrated only a month ago when many Facebook users were exploited through a program called Firesheep. The same is possible if you shop on a non-encrypted site. You can tell if a site uses SSL encryption if the address starts with “https://” or if there is some sort of lock symbol in the address bar. If you’re not sure, wait until you get home. That said, make sure your home Internet connection is equipped with at least WEP level encryption.

Numbers Matter

Don’t just memorize your credit card number, keep your other bank account information handy, too. If you’re doing a lot of shopping, you should be checking your account balances daily. Early detection is one of the keys to preventing identity theft. While your credit card company should let you know if there’s any strange behaviour on your card—such as an all-inclusive trip to Cambodia—they can’t tell the difference between more mundane purchases. Checking your balances often can be the difference between $5,000 and $50. Remember what you purchased and how much it was. This tip will also help some from exceeding their budgeted holiday shopping expenses.

Keep your Computer Safe

Even if you follow all of the tips above, you can still have your identity stolen if someone gains access to your machine through a trojan. A trojan enables other people to see what you’re doing. One popular application of these is to install what is known as a keylogger on your machine, which then remembers every key you press, and sends it to the hacker. By simply scanning your keystrokes for strings of 16 numbers, they can steal your credit card number quite easily. Scanning your computer at least once a week with your favourite anti-virus software should keep you safe. Also, be alert if you think your computer is behaving strangely in any way.

The most important thing to remember when shopping online is common sense. Not losing your cool in the heat of a vicious eBay bidding war on those new gloves that even let you use your iPad while you’re wearing them can make all the difference in the world. All you have to do is make it hard for crooks to steal your information, because when it gets too hard, they’ll just target someone else. When in doubt, shop from home, on your secure computer, with your secure internet connection, with a secure grip on your wallet.


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