If so, be careful. Your risk of falling victim to credit card fraud or identity theft is high this time of year, and you need to pay close attention to your financial accounts and credit reports.
It was only two years ago, during the 2013 Black Friday weekend, that hackers planted malware into Target’s POS system and used it to steal 40 million credit and debit card numbers, as well as the names, addresses, emails and phone numbers of as many as 70 million Target customers. Though this is an extreme example of what can go wrong for consumers during the holiday season, as even quiet years see numerous security breaches. As many as 15 million Americans have their identities used fraudulently every year, and these instances are much more common during the height of the holiday shopping season.
What’s worse is that instances of identity theft appear to be getting more common every year. Americans don’t just have to worry about theft committed by locals in their neighborhood. Widespread Internet access makes it possible for people thousands of miles away to hack into an online account and steal personal information belonging to millions.
The many vulnerabilities associated with online shopping
Its no surprise that online sales are predicted to rise this holiday season. Many people enjoy the convenience of being able to do most, if not all, of their holiday shopping from the comfort of their home — often with nothing more than a smartphone. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to increase by 3.7 percent this year, reaching $630.5 billion and representing about 19 percent of the year’s total retail activity. Of that, online sales will comprise about $105 billion and see an increase between 6 and 8 percent.
But while online retailers have been working around the clock to make sure their websites can handle this growing load, they have done much less to ensure that their customers have a secure shopping experience. The Fiscal Times reports that four out of five retailer websites don’t meet the minimum threshold for secure password requirements. Almost one-third of these websites accepted the ten most common (and thus, least secure) passwords. The word “password” was one of them.
If the passwords associated with online accounts are easy to guess, it doesn’t take much effort for an identity thief to take what he or she needs. This season, more than ever, it is important for consumers to be proactive about their online security when they shop.
If you have concerns about identity theft, be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activities that may indicate fraud. This can give you much-needed peace of mind, allowing you to rest assured that you’re taking important measures to safeguard your identity.