Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, after the family, the turkey, and football, for many of us it was time to begin Christmas shopping. But the idea of braving the lines and crowds at department stores made the idea of doing our shopping online very appealing. But, that is what many thieves were and are counting on.

Why Can’t I Swipe Anymore?

If we think back to 2013, many of us who shopped at Target between Black Friday and Christmas had their credit and debit card information exposed. That was a real example of Russian hacking. You see, the hackers, as the story has been told, began surveilling the new Target HVAC system, and gained access to that new web-based control system online. That one internal system breach, led to another, which led to another, which brought the hackers to the POS terminals. Every swipe, every key entry at the register, was sent overseas as each transaction was processed.

Fast forward and now we are blessed with shopping line delays as each of us now has to insert our cards into a reader for a secure purchase. This encrypted transaction so far has worked, but unfortunately our cards have two major design flaws: 1) the card number printed on the front and 2) the magnetic strip on the back. Every time we swipe, or allow our card’s number to be inputted, we circumvent the bank’s transaction security. Skimmers, or people with ill intent can capture the data from the card (the card number, the expiration date, and the 3 or 4 digit security code) and bring about plenty of headaches for us. A good rule to follow is if the retailer has to swipe or key in your card number, walk away. You are putting your information at risk.

How Safe is my Phone

An alternative that many of us have available that is underused is loading our purchase cards/gift cards into Samsung Pay, Google Pay, or Apple Pay and using the Near Field Communication (NFC) chip in our phones to conduct the transaction. These digital wallets mask the actual card number and allow for a secure transaction. If that same retailer that doesn’t have a machine that uses your card’s secure chip AND doesn’t accept “pay by phone”, skip that retailer.

All these steps are good tips to remember except a lot of us forget about that security when we shop online. When we shop online, we accept the risk that our data being transmitted can be intercepted, or worse if we store our credit card information at a retailer’s website, we risk that data being stolen due to insecure data storage protocols. Everyone of us leaves a digital footprint when we surf the web. Your IP address provides a wealth of information for hackers and unscrupulous online retailers. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) provides a layer of security for all internet traffic. It secures your connection by automatically encrypting the network you are using.

This holiday season invest in your online security. VPN’s range in price and capabilities. There are also “FREE” VPNs available, but remember, just as you would protect your home with lights, locks, and alarms, protect yourself and your family when they are online. With a VPN you can bring that security to your computer and put a barrier between you and the crooks that would steal your information.