Shopping online offers convenience, but consumers should keep security in mind

Many consumers would agree with the song “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” even to the point of keeping their shopping at home with the convenience of online purchasing and home delivery.

The internet makes searching for the perfect gifts fast and easy, but a Mississippi State professor of management and information systems said nothing steals joy quite like identity theft, which could result from shopping transactions on unsecured websites.

Cybersecurity expert Merrill Warkentin, a longtime faculty member in MSU’s College of Business and author of a book on electronic commerce, said online shopping offers many advantages, but consumers should stay aware of security issues.

Identity thieves and financial scammers are around all year, but they are especially busy during the holiday season trying to get your information and your money,” Warkentin said. “This is a time to be extra vigilant when you shop online. Be proactive and stay safe.”

Warkentin offered these tips:

—When starting new online accounts with an online vendor, do not reuse old passwords. If you don’t use a password manager, invent new strong passwords for each site and record them in a safe, inconspicuous location, such as a nondescript paper sheet filed at home.

—Always look for the https (note the “s”) and the lock symbol in the internet address before entering payment information and other personal data onto a website.

—When tempted to click on a link in an email or online advertisement to make a purchase, be wary. As an alternative to clicking the link, type the web address carefully in the web browser to visit the site. Some of these links might take you to a spoofed site that looks legitimate but actually is a scammer’s website seeking your credit card information. To avoid this danger, type in the web address yourself—it’s worth the extra effort.

—Be aware that new scams are reported regularly. One recent, creative scam involves the scammer sending an email from an email address that appears to be from someone like your boss. In fact, it really originates from an email address they registered that includes your boss’s name. The email may say your boss is in a meeting and ask you to do something fast, hoping you won’t notice the fake email address. The scammer may ask you to buy gift cards (for your boss’s niece, for example). Directions then ask the unknowing victim to send a picture of these cards. Once the scammer receives this information, the money on these  gift cards (sometimes worth $500) is gone. Pay attention, be aware and be wary!

—Consider using a separate credit card strictly for online purchasing. If this payment information becomes compromised, you won’t have the hassle of changing your credit card information for regular monthly bills set up for automatic payments.

“Most decisions in life involve trade-offs, and shopping online is no different. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Warkentin said. “Take a little time to pay attention and be careful, and happy holidays to everyone,” he added.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

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