Calling All Computer or Credit Card Users...

Greetings! This means pretty much everyone!  As you get those last minute gifts ordered for the holidays, go out to dinner, or use your credit card anywhere, we have a few tips to keep in mind to ensure your online safety this holiday season (and always!). These steps are extremely manageable and anyone can follow them with a little effort! 

Dr. Yair Levy, professor of cybersecurity and information systems at Nova Southeastern University's College of Engineering and Computing, sat down for with Sun Sentinel's Doreen Christensen to offer up his top tips. We have highlighted some important things from this interview for you to keep in mind. Stay cyber safe out there!

Q. What are the biggest threats consumers face when shopping online?

A. Identity theft. When shopping online, you provide a lot of information about yourself like your name, address, date of birth or challenge questions. Make sure you shop only at credible websites, merchants and companies that you trust. Be wary of sites that offer too-good-to-be true offers. Don't be greedy and expect to get something for nothing or super cheap. Trusted sites give you nice discounts. They don't give you the goods for free. There is no free lunch online, but there is free shipping.

Q. Do I need to protect myself when shopping in stores?

A. Yes. Credit card fraud is big business, costing billions each year. At the end of the day, we all collectively pay for fraud. Ensure you have a card with a chip in it. The e-chip generates a unique code for each transaction when inserted into a special reader at the register. All retailers were expected to install these by October. It's a much more secure system.

If your credit card number is skimmed, or criminals somehow steal your number, they won't be able to make phony credit cards to use in stores. Some retailers have not installed the e-chip readers yet, so while we are in transition, know where your card is at all times.

In restaurants, I walk over to the station with the waiter and watch while the card is scanned and then I take the card when they're done. I never let my credit cards out of my sight. Neither should you.

Q. What's your best top cybersecurity tip?

A. Don't use free Wi-Fi on your mobile device. Use your own data plan. You can't afford to be cheap when it comes to online security. You'll eventually get bitten by fraudsters. Cyber crooks name their network something familiar, like Fort Lauderdale Airport, and then get you to connect as a guest so they can see into your device. They add malware to your device and then when you shop or log into your bank account, they record your sensitive personal information and passwords.

Q. How do criminals get credit card and personal information?

A. Mainly through phishing scams. These are bogus electronic communications masquerading as trustworthy retailers like Amazon, Wal-Mart and others by offering huge discounts. Never, ever click on links provided in an email to make a purchase. Instead, go to the site independently to verify the offer or coupon code first and only then log into your account. If the deal seems too good to be true, be suspicious. It likely is.

Q. Your top tip for to stay safe online?

A. Dedicate one credit card for online purchases only because it's at a higher risk of being compromised. Use a second credit card to pay bills, buy gas, groceries, etc. If the card is compromised, it's easy to cancel the account. There is no bulletproof solution, but the two-credit card system is more secure. If the card for online purchases is compromised, report it to the company and get a new card. No big deal.

Q. What's the first thing I should do when making an online purchase?

A. Verify a secured connection by looking for a little padlock in the browser address bar. If you don't see that, verify an encrypted connection, or Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secured (HTTPS), by making sure the Web address starts with "https://" (the "s" stands for secured). Think of it this way: HTTP is like a postcard. Anyone can read it when you transmit. HTTPS is like putting the letter in an envelope.

Q. Where can consumers learn more about internet safety?

A. The Department of Homeland Security offers useful and practical information at StopThinkConnect.org. Another good resource is the National Cyber Security Alliance at StaySafeOnline.org. Also, If you are a victim of cyber crime, or get suspicious phishing emails, report them to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov. The site posts alerts on data breaches and emerging internet crime schemes.

Read the full story here.