Be cyber-aware during the holidays

There is a definite increase in online fraud during the holidays; biggest targets are online shoppers

Cyber Aware
Linda Reid
LINDA REID Columbia Bank

You can see it everywhere – the decorations, the music, the frenetic shopping – it’s literally impossible to miss the arrival of the holiday season here in Southwest Washington.

Unfortunately, along with the obvious signs of the season, there is a less visible occurrence that is just as real – online fraud.

With so many people shopping online, often in a big hurry and not necessarily paying close attention to their transactions, criminals view the holidays as a gift that keeps on giving. According to many retail experts and associations, we can expect a definite increase in online fraud during the holidays with the biggest targets being people who shop online for digital gift cards, electronics and food/beverage products.

To help protect yourself, we recommend every online shopper take the following precautions:

  • Develop a strong, unique and complex password for any sites you plan to visit regularly for your online shopping. I know it is a pain to manage your password, but every online security expert will tell you it is your first line of defense against fraud.
  • Use your bank’s credit card alert system. At Columbia Bank we offer several programs to alert clients to potentially fraudulent activity on their credit or debit card. These kinds of programs are now just as important as locking the front door of your house.
  • Only visit secure sites when shopping. Those are the sites with a padlock symbol and/or a web address that starts with https:// where the ‘s’ stands for secure.
  • Don’t shop using a public Wi-Fi without a password. Yes, being able to purchase last minutes gifts while sipping a latte is great, but using the coffee shop’s unprotected public Wi-Fi is an invitation to fraud.
  • Don’t click unsolicited links online. During hectic shopping sprees online, it’s tempting to click on a pop-up link advertising an amazing sale, but such ads can actually be malicious. It’s better to go to a website on your own initiation then through a pop-up. In fact, it’s a great idea to restrict your shopping to online stores you trust and have used previously.
  • Treat your personal information like the valuable commodity that it is. Never give any personal information to anyone over the phone that you did not call first.
  • Further, never share your login and other credential information with anyone.
  • With so many online transactions during the holidays, it is critical to monitor your accounts often for any suspicious activity as a final level of security. Again, I know people are busy, but taking just a few moments each day to scan your transactions online can save you a lot of pain.

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

Linda Reid is vice president and relationship banking officer for Columbia Bank. She can be reached at