What to know before buying holiday gifts online

In this photo illustration, an ad seen on the a website for a Cyber Monday sale is displayed on laptop computers on Nov. 29, 2010, in San Anselmo, California. (Photo Illustration/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The countdown is on for holiday shopping.

While you’re searching for the perfect gifts for your favorite people, make sure to keep an eye on your cybersecurity.

“The issue is, there’s always risk whether you’re shopping in a store or shopping online,” said Eric Schmidt, chief information security officer at Butler University. “What you need to do is reduce that risk as much as you can.”

Schmidt said he knows just how vulnerable your information is when you shop online.

“The issue is your information is out there,” he said. “There are a lot of organizations that legitimately have your information.”

Safe payments

One thing Schmidt suggested you start doing is paying with a third-party system online — like Paypal — that way you don’t have to give your credit card information to every site, just to Paypal.

Using Wi-Fi

Also, be careful where you’re logging on, especially in public public places.

“A lot of times they’ll have a free online Wi-Fi connection for you to use,” Schmidt said. “That’s probably an insecure connection.”

Public Wi-Fi networks make it easier for people to hop on and see your information, as opposed to private Wi-Fi networks.

Beware false websites

The Better Business Bureau advises you should also be careful about which sites you’re using.

“In today’s electronic world, it’s very easy to take someone’s logo, build a website, costs you almost nothing to do that and they can make it look very, very real,” said Tim Maniscalo, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Indiana.

Maniscalo said hackers build fake websites so they can steal your credit card number. If it’s a boutique shop, look for a phone number or physical address where you can verify the site is legit. Also, look for the icon of a closed lock next to the web address, or addresses beginning with “https” to indicate they are secure. If something feels weird — like sites asking for a strange form of payment — Maniscalo said it probably is.

“If they won’t take your credit card, if they want you to use one of these Green Dot (prepaid) cards, or if they want you to wire money, particularly money outside the United States, those are also real tipoffs,” Maniscalo said.

Freeze your credit

Another thing Schmidt asks you to consider: freezing your credit. There have been major security breaches at reputable retailers, including Target, in the past couple years. If hackers get your information, that’s one thing, but, if your credit is frozen, at least you’re protected in that one area.

BBB list of 12 holiday scams to watch out for

  1. Malware eCard: The fun holiday cards you can email to friends can also be disguises for viruses.
  2. Counterfeit goods: Luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true are often fake.
  3. Look-alike websites: People can create websites that look like they’re for your favorite store.
  4. Unusual Forms of Payment: Be wary of sites and people that ask for strange payment methods.
  5. Santa scammers: Many people offer personalized letters from Santa for your kids. Scammers will use this as a way to get your information.
  6. Fake shipping notifications: Emails allegedly letting you know the status of a shipment can contain links with viruses.
  7. Grandparent scams: Seniors should be careful if they get a call from someone pretending to be their grandchild in trouble.
  8. Phony charities: Scammers may take advantage of your generous holiday heart with solicitations for fake charities.
  9. Temporary holiday jobs: Beware of seasonal jobs that require you to pay something up front or share personal information for the job lead.
  10. Travel scams: Make sure to book holiday travel through a reputable website.
  11. Free gift cards: Pop-ups or emails offering free gift cards can be a ploy to get your personal information.
  12. Puppy scams: Be careful buying pets online. Always research where you are buying the dog from and never wire any money.