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Cybersecurity: Shop Carefully This Holiday Season

December 18, 2020

Holiday shopping, much like many areas of life, looks different in 2020. Consumers are choosing to play it safe and shop from home, as demonstrated on Cyber Monday, with shoppers making $10.8 billion in purchases, up 15.1% from 2019. As we continue to move into the holiday season, Valley Strong wants to remind you to be vigilant when shopping online, in store, or when using peer to peer payments. Here are five tips to help avoid falling victim to a Grinch!  

  1. Understand cybersecurity basics. 

Let us start with the basics of cybersecurity. First, updating passwords and ensuring you do not use the same one for every site is an excellent way to thwart potential criminals. Right now, your inbox is probably full of sales advertisements and order confirmations from businesses you are doing legitimate business with. It is easy to lose track, so remember, if you find yourself with an email you do not recognize, do not click any links. Those links could install unwanted software or be a phishing attempt. Lastly, criminals will try to capture financial information like your account number or credit card information. At Valley Strong we will never call, email, or text you to ask for account or card information. If you are ever unsure if you have received a legitimate message from us, feel free to reach out by phone or Live Chat and we will be happy to help. Click here to read another Valley Strong blog with even more helpful and important information.  

2. Shop from trustworthy sites. 

Purchasing a great gift is no longer confined to the walls of big box or mall stores. The digital marketplace has allowed artisans, from our local community to across the country, the opportunity to compete for your business.  

As our shopping opportunities broaden, it is important to know how to identify if a merchant should be trusted to complete your online transaction safely. Here are a few ways to help identify a trustworthy site. First, make sure the site is “secure” by looking for “https” in the URL address, indicating your information is encrypted. Second, do some research before you make a purchase. You can easily locate information about a website, including complaints and bad reviews. If you find too many, it is a good sign you should steer clear and find another retailer.  

Lastly, most legitimate sites have a contact email or phone number for customer service. If this information is not easily available or identifiable, this could be a sign the company is not eager to help you if you have a problem, which is not ideal when buying online. If you decide to move forward with a purchase from any merchant, always keep the correspondences you receive, including purchase orders or confirmations, shipping verifications and receipts. 

3. Use a digital wallet. 

When doing holiday shopping in person, digital wallet services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay are a great alternative to the traditional method of dipping or swiping your card. When using digital wallet services, your card information is electronically masked and can only be used in conjunction with the biometrics available on your smart phone. The best part? You can add your Valley Strong Visa Check or Credit Card to your digital wallet right now! Click here for more information on using digital wallet services. 

4. Understand “peer-to-peer” payment options. 

Splitting a lunch bill with your friend, sending your kids their allowance, or paying Mom back has never been easier with the availability of peer-to-peer services like Zelle®, Venmo, or Cashapp. While convenient, it is important to understand using peer to peer payments should not be used to pay for goods or services, as you do not have the same protection as you might when using a debit or credit card. Consumer Reports, wrote an excellent article demonstrating the lack protection with peer-to-peer payments. While it may be convenient to pay your Facebook friend for the vintage Batman action figure they sold you, if they do not send it, Valley Strong cannot help you recover your funds. (We also do not know a lot about vintage Batman toys. Sorry!) Remember, when you use your Valley Strong debit or credit card, you have the right to formally dispute a transaction if your goods are not delivered.   

5. Do not get scammed by gift cards. 

Gift cards are a convenient and practical gift. However, they have also become a favorite target of thieves. Sometimes thieves write down the number from inactive cards displayed near a checkout stand and then wait for them to be activated and drain the balance. You can help avoid that by choosing a card in the middle of the pack or that is in tamper-proof packaging, and always save your receipt.  

Another common gift card scam is when someone asks you to pay them using gift cards rather than cash. Then once they receive the card numbers, they use them before you get the goods or service you were purchasing. (Here is more information on common gift card scams.)  

While it is the most wonderful time of the year, it is also a time when consumers tend to let down their guard. It is important to remember, a little caution goes a long way.  

Have questions about cybersecurity or your account? Contact Valley Strong Credit Union today!