Protect your online accounts during the holidays

Make the holiday season a financial success by following some simple tips


With the Christmas holiday fast approaching many people are scrambling to purchase those last-minute gifts for their families and friends. One thing people may not be thinking about, however, is the threat of online fraud and protecting their finances during this busy shopping season.

“While the holiday season is filled with joy and happiness for most people, this time of year is also filled with something decidedly less appealing – online fraud,” said Linda Reid, relationship banking officer with Columbia Bank. “With so many people shopping online – many in a big hurry who may not be paying close attention to their transactions – criminals intent on stealing financial information or one’s identity view the holidays as a gift that keeps on giving.”

In order for shoppers to protect themselves, Reid said they recommend every online shopper take the following precautions:

Develop a strong password and change it often. Although it is a pain to manage your password, every online security expert will tell you it is your first line of defense against fraud.

Use your bank’s credit card alert system to avoid being scammed. At Columbia, they offer several programs to alert clients to potential fraudulent activity on your credit or debit card. These kinds of programs are now just as important as locking the front door of your house.

With so many online transactions during the holidays, it is critical to monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity as a final level of security. People are busy, but taking just a few moments to scan your transactions online can save you a lot of pain.

Don’t shop over a public Wi-Fi. Yes, being able to purchase last minutes gifts, while sipping a latte is great, but using the coffee shop’s public Wi-Fi is an invitation to fraud.

Don’t click unsolicited links while online shopping. During frenetic shopping sprees online, it’s tempting to click on a pop up link advertising an amazing sale, but such ads can actually be malicious. Better to go to a website by your own initiation then through a pop up.

Scott Miller, SVP/marketing director with Riverview Community Bank, said the easiest way to stay on budget and protect yourself during the holiday season is to set aside and use only cash.

However, if you decide to do your shopping online, Riverview has some tips to offer as well:

Use your digital wallet on your phone and other devices. With Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay your debit or credit card number is never shared with merchants, so your account cannot be compromised by pirates.

Understand the benefits of your debit and credit cards. With the Riverview Debit Mastercard, clients enjoy:

Zero Liability Protection – Protect your against unauthorized purchase on your card, should your card be lost or stolen Extended Warranty – doubles the time period and duplicates the coverage of the original manufacturer’s warranty for up to one year.

Price Protection – if you find a lower price with 60 days of purchase, Price Protection guarantees you the best price on products by refunding the difference.

Satisfaction Guaranteed – Provides up to $250 per product if you become dissatisfied with the product within 60 days of purchase and the merchant will not accept a return.

Mastercard ID Theft Protection – Provides early detection services and assistance should you become a victim of identity theft.

Use your online banking to monitor your accounts on a daily basis. Report any suspicious activity to your bank.

HAPO Community Credit Union also has some tips on their website on how to protect your information and access to your accounts, including:

If you have social media accounts on sites like Twitter or Facebook, review your privacy settings and be careful what you share. Anything you share publicly on these sites could be used by identity thieves to impersonate you.

Be wary of impersonators. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a bank, credit card company or government agency, use caution. Never give personal information over the phone or through digital channels unless you are completely sure you know who you are talking to.

Sign up for transaction alerts to monitor for unauthorized transactions. Alerts are available in online banking or HAPO’s Card Valet App.

“It’s sad but true, the holidays bring out criminals looking to steal critical data and account information,” Reid said. “Take a few proactive steps to ensure you don’t become a victim this season.”

Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start