You likely have been spending more time shopping online in 2020—a habit that may continue for the holidays. No crowds. No searching a store for an out-of-stock item.

But identity thieves also know you’re online more. This holiday season, don’t let your guard down when it comes to protecting your personal information. Here are 11 holiday shopping tips to help you safeguard it:

Shop online at stores you trust

Comparing prices online is a good habit, but the best-looking deal doesn’t always come from a reputable store. That means you should know exactly whom you’re buying from and stick to bigger online names, such as Amazon and other established brands, says Gopal Padinjaruveetil, chief information security officer for AAA.

“Beware of unbelievably low prices,” he says. “Rock-bottom prices should be a big red flag.”

If you do find the perfect gift on an unfamiliar site, research it before purchasing. Padinjaruveetil recommends checking with the Better Business Bureau to see if there’s a history of complaints about the site. Also, check to make sure the website has a valid email address, a legitimate U.S. phone number and a physical address in the United States.

The same advice applies when shopping with apps on your phone or tablet: Use caution before downloading.

Make sure your technology is current

Keep your computer’s and mobile device’s operating systems and online browsers updated, and use antivirus software. This will help protect against scams like malware, which downloads malicious software when you click on a link.

Home routers are another target of scammers, Padinjaruveetil says. Ensure you have secure Wi-Fi in your home and that it has Wi-Fi Protected Access. (Follow manufacturer instructions to access your router’s settings.) It’s also important to have a complex password or passphrase to access your Wi-Fi.

Use strong passphrases

Four simple tips for creating a strong password.

See the Tips

Padinjaruveetil recommends using a passphrase as your password. A longer passphrase with random words that are meaningful to you is easier for you to remember and harder for a hacker to guess. Also avoid using the same passphrase on different shopping accounts.

Enable two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication requires you to present two pieces of information when accessing an account, such as a password and a numeric code texted to your phone. If a company or website offers the added security, Padinjaruveetil advises using it.

Use credit cards instead of debit cards

Credit cards—either a physical card or virtual one—generally offer stronger protection against fraud, Padinjaruveetil says. If a criminal uses your debit card, you may not get all of your money back, depending on how quickly you notice the fraud and take action.

Among the simpler holiday shopping tips: Before you enter your credit card online, look for a lock symbol or “https” in the URL bar of your browser to help ensure your information is secure.

Monitor your credit (and identity)

When you use your credit card, be sure to check your statements once a week for any fraudulent transactions, Padinjaruveetil says. You can also set up credit monitoring for added peace of mind—it’s free to AAA Members through ProtectMyID.

Don’t save your card info

Yes, telling an online retailer to remember your credit card details will be easier for you on your next purchase. But if your account at that store becomes compromised, your card information is vulnerable, too, Padinjaruveetil says.

Refuse to share certain personal info

The info you need to provide when buying something online is pretty standard: name, address, phone number, email and a way to pay. You should never need to give your Social Security, driver’s license or passport numbers to a shopping website, Padinjaruveetil says.

Beware of online scams

Be wary of clicking an email link that promises a “special offer” from someone or some company you don’t know. Phishing scams try to trick you into providing personal information that criminals can use to steal your identity and open new accounts in your name.

Consider a dedicated email for online shopping

Online shopping means sharing your email address, which leads to getting added to more mailing lists and exposed to more opportunities for phishing scams. With an email dedicated to online shopping, you should see less spam in your main email.

Avoid public Wi-Fi when shopping online

When you do leave home, you may be tempted to buy a gift as soon as you see it online, such as while you’re connected to unsecured Wi-Fi at a shopping center. But submitting your credit card and other personal information on public Wi-Fi leaves you more open to identity theft. It’s best to wait and make your purchase when you get to a protected network you trust, Padinjaruveetil says.

Give Yourself the Gift of Peace of Mind

Free identity theft protection is available with your AAA Membership.

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