Fortify Your Identity When Shopping Online or at the Store

In the last few years, you’ve likely received an email or text stating that a store you frequent has had a data breach. They may recommend changing passwords, freezing credit cards, and setting up fraud alerts. It’s not just the stores you walk into, online shopping is also vulnerable to professional hackers. 

It’s frustrating and frightening to learn your personal information is unprotected or stolen by someone. Scammers using cybersecurity attacks steal large amounts of personal data and hold it for ransom. Data breaches are serious business for a thriving cybercriminal element.

How do you protect yourself and what happens next? In this blog, we’ll outline some steps you can take to protect yourself and your identity whether you’re shopping out or in.

Identity Theft From Shopping Online

Internet thieves aren’t reaching for your wallet; they’re coming for your information. How does it happen? One at a time or in bulk, scammers are after your data to use it as if it was their own. Here are three popular ways they get your information.

  • Using Public Wi-Fi: You’ve probably been in a store and, not finding what you wanted, ordered something from your phone. But if your phone was using the store’s free Wi-Fi and a hacker was running software designed to unlock the router and capture the data–including your credit or debit card transaction–your personal information is vulnerable.
  • Unsecure Websites: Shopping online at websites that aren’t encrypted makes you an easy mark for hackers. Only share information with sites starting with https:// and a padlock icon. The “s” at the end of http means “secure.” Click on the padlock to view the site’s security details.
  • Malicious Software: You may unknowingly invite malware into your computer by clicking on an attachment or opening an email. Once inside, it’ll work to capture whatever information you enter.

Identity Theft From In-Store Shopping

You find that perfect last-minute gift for your brother and happily load your chip card into a reader at checkout. You didn’t know that hackers had already intercepted the information from that card because they overcame the lack of credentials on the store’s router. Now it’s theirs to sell on the dark web, buy gift cards, make purchases or apply for more credit.

But they have other ways:

  • Skimming: Although chip card technology has helped immensely, hackers keep gaining ground. By installing bugs at terminals–gas stations are one of the most skimmed–hackers gather information as you swipe or insert your card.
  • Physical: Never underestimate the abilities of scammers. Some train to stand near you and know what numbers you press on the keypad. Others swipe your card after you swiped it and leave it on the counter. And there’s still the old-school style–pickpocketing.

How to Protect Yourself When Shopping Online or In-Store

Although scammers are learning and adapting, so are security services, and you can, too. Here are a few tried and true ways to protect your valuable information:

  • Don’t throw away paper receipts or confirmation numbers from online sales. Compare them regularly with your statements to check for fraudulent charges. If you see any discrepancies or charges you believe are fraudulent, report them ASAP.
  • As mentioned above, shop only on secure websites. They have the software and encryption to keep up with cybercriminals.
  • Keep passwords secure and change them regularly with multi-factor verification.
  • Use antivirus software on your home computer and keep your phone on automatic update.
  • Set up alerts with your credit card provider. You’ll know right away if anyone tries to use your number.
  • Use credit cards at store checkout because they’re easier to freeze and unfreeze than debit cards.
  • Don’t answer personal questions loudly if asked at checkout, and don’t leave your card out too long.
  • Be 100% certain you trust a site or link before clicking on it.

What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen

As terrifying as the idea is, there are practical steps to protect your identity even after the fact. The first step is to take a deep breath and not panic. Others have been there before, and you can make it through, too.

  • Freeze your credit: Contact the major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and request a freeze. This will stop anyone from issuing credit to a fraudulent you. It won’t affect your credit score.
  • Add a fraud alert if you can’t freeze your credit: If you’re buying a home or other large purchase requiring credit history access, you won’t want to freeze your credit yet. Place a fraud alert on your credit to flag any suspicious activity. Freeze your credit when on the other side of the purchase.
  • Watch credit card activity: Check for all transactions and call merchants and the card provider if anything suspicious happens.
  • Check your credit reports: You’re entitled to one free annual credit report. Use it and check for anything you think looks suspicious. You can also dispute items that appear on your credit report if you believe it’s in error.

Stay Ahead of the Scammers

Minster Bank is here to help you with fraud protection and answers. We understand things happen that are beyond our control sometimes, but we don’t have to remain victims. Stand up to fraud and know what to avoid to keep yourself safe.

If you suspect anything has happened, contact us immediately, and we’ll take steps together to protect your identity. Regularly keeping your personal information private, such as attending our periodic Shred-It events, is another fantastic way to remove access to personal information from prying eyes. Be sure to check our site regularly for upcoming events.

Shred-it Event details