5 Easy Tips to Beef Up Your Online Holiday Shopping Security

Published on November 27, 2020 by Daniel Azzoli

Person in black t-shirt standing in front of wooden slats holding stylized blackboard showing happy cyber Monday

Once you pack up the last of the turkey leftovers, it’s official: Thanksgiving dinner is finally over. But for millions of Americans looking to start their holiday shopping, the weekend has only just begun.

It all starts with Black Friday. Eager shoppers top off their Thanksgiving traditions by doing their best to be the first to snag that sale item they’ve had their eye on.

As the weekend winds down, enter Cyber Monday: one of the busiest shopping days of the year. By no coincidence, it’s also one of the busiest days for scammers hoping to steal your credit card information.

When it comes to your personal information, Cyber Monday may be a tricky time to shop. While Cyber Monday sales may be the key to finding gifts that fit your tight budget, we don’t recommend using your loans, such as a personal line of credit for shopping purposes.

If you plan on taking advantage of these cyber deals, first take some time to find out what is a personal line of credit and why it shouldn’t join you as you hunt for bargains. Then take a look at our online security tips below. They’re a versatile set of instructions that can help you throughout the holiday shopping season and beyond.

Holiday Shopping Security Tip #1: Don’t Use Debit

Quantity, size, and buy now — a click for each of these buttons sends you off to the digital checkout.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is deciding whether to pay with debit or credit.

Time and time again, a financial rule of thumb cautions against using credit when you don’t need to. But when it comes to your digital security, this advice may have unintended consequences for your finances.

person shopping online during cyber Monday

It all depends on if your card gets exposed to fraud.

The average credit card comes with liability protection that a debit card does not. If a fraudster maxes out your limit, you won’t necessarily be on the hook for the big bill. At most, you may have to pay $50, but in some instances, the company won’t expect you to pay a cent[1].

As for your debit card, you may have some liability protection, but you have a narrow window of time to cash in.

Generally, the longer it takes you to spot the problem and report the fraudulent charges, the more you’ll have to pay[2].

This may come as bad news if you aren’t in the habit of checking your bank account. Your inattention may cost you a great deal!

As if that wasn’t reason enough to sideline your debit card this Cyber Monday, here’s one more: a compromised debit account may be a big threat to your finances.

When a fraudster steals your debit information, they can access any account attached to this profile. In many cases, this ends up being the checking account you use to pay bills. Should they empty it, paying your bills on time may be a challenge!

Does This Apply to Every Credit Account?

Normally, we have a pretty strict rule about credit: only use it in emergencies. And we stand by this rule when it comes to a Line of Credit by CBW Bank offered through CreditFresh; it should never be your Cyber Monday shopping assistant.

But when it comes to a credit card, you may choose to use it for online shopping, provided you can pay back your purchase in full on or before the due date.

This goes for any time you rely on this card for online shopping. Stick to things you can afford, and explore these budgeting tips to make sure you pay off your balance all-year-round. 

Holiday Shopping Security Tip #2: Have a Designated Charger

The designated driver is the unsung hero during the holidays. They make sure everyone who toasts with spiked eggnog and mulled cider makes it home safely.

Having a designated charger — or just one credit card you use for all your online shopping — plays another important role in the festivities.

This may seem counterintuitive if you plan on spreading out your purchases between several cards, so no one card is overburdened by your shopping. But it comes with the following advantages:

  • You can focus on one account when monitoring for fraud, rather than several.
  • If your information gets exposed while shopping on Cyber Monday, only one card will be affected. This means you’ll only have to go through the process of reporting one card and not several at once.

Now, it’s just a matter of choosing which credit card will be your designated shopping assistant.

person holding credit card and shopping online for Cyber Monday

You may have multiple credit cards at your disposal. But how many is too many? Carrying an excessive amount of credit cards may be one of the financial mistakes we learn from our parents, but is it a mistake for everyone?

There is no black and white answer to this question. If you manage to pay off your balances in full on time, and you keep to a budget, there may be no harm in rotating between three or more cards.

However, if you struggle to pay off your balances — or if your credit cards tempt you into overspending — then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship with these cards.

Holiday Shopping Security Tip #3: Monitor Your Accounts

Around the holidays, “no peeking” becomes the de facto rule of gift giving. But it doesn’t apply to your finances. We encourage you to take a look at your accounts often.

Cyber Monday is just the start of a very long holiday shopping season, and you may be adding purchase after purchase to these statements. Monitoring them regularly can help you catch fraud as soon as it happens.

Try to check all your accounts once a week. That includes a line of credit or a credit card you don’t use regularly.

This is a good first step towards effective cybersecurity. But for even greater protection, get into the habit of checking your credit report, too. Getting to know your credit report helps you protect it.

From there, you’ll be able to go through the list and spot any inaccuracies that may be dragging down your credit score unfairly. You’ll want to file a dispute right away if you spot any of the following issues:

  • New credit applications you didn’t submit
  • New loans or lines of credit accounts you didn’t open
  • Inaccurate account information

Take a look at this article to learn more about that process.

How Often Should You Check Your Credit Report?

Every year, you have one free check from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Generally, you should spread them out, so you can check your score once every four months.

Since your credit will likely get more mileage during the holidays, it may be a good idea to save one of these checks for the holiday shopping season.

blonde woman in blue dress shirt next to table with hand over laptop trackpad

Holiday Shopping Security Tip #4: A Steal May Be a Scam

While plenty of legitimate sales are up for grabs, big scams plague Cyber Monday.

One of the most common cons of the last few years involves fraudsters promising the latest smartphone for free. All you have to do is share your financial information to set up an account, and they’ll ship you a brand new phone. It’s as easy as that.

But in your rush to be one of the lucky ones, you may overlook the fact that a new model typically sets you back more than $1,000. At that price, there’s no way a company would offer these expensive handsets for free.

Even if they did, they wouldn’t need your line of credit or credit card number to do it.

When in doubt, listen to your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Rock-bottom prices are usually used to camouflage scams.

And if you aren’t sure, dig up a little dirt before you share your info. Run the company name and services through an Internet search to see what others have said about them. If anything seems fishy, move onto the next deal.

Holiday Shopping Security Tip #5: Don’t Go Phishing

Free smartphones are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scams. More will likely fill your inbox this holiday shopping season.

Career cons make a racket out of duping their victims into sharing personal information, downloading a corrupted file, or clicking a predatory link.

A lot of us believe we’re immune to these scams, but anyone can fall victim if we’re not careful! Scammers are often successful because they masquerade as familiar brands or even people in your contacts.

Before you give away your data to the wrong person, check in with the following online security tips.

1. Check the Sender

While most email services will do their best to filter out spam from your inbox, some outliers might sneak past their defences. Catch them by reviewing the sender before opening the message. If you don’t recognize it, think twice about clicking it.

2. Consider the Call to Action

What does the email ask you to do? In a legitimate newsletter, a business may ask you to check out their new sales. A financial institution may remind you to log onto your line of credit account to check your statements. What they won’t do is ask you to send money or reply directly to the email with your line of credit information. If they do, it’s probably a phishing scam.

3. Mind the Language

Another thing a legitimate business will never do is use threatening language to intimidate you into following their demands.

This is an important tip to remember off the computer, too. If someone calls you claiming to be the IRS or your financial institution, and they use intimidating language, hang up. Find out the number of the company they’re claiming to be from and call it to see if it was really them. 

4. Hesitate Before You Click

Even if the email is from someone you trust, and everything else seems okay, don’t click just yet. Sophisticated scams can copy a brand’s logo and formatting easily enough.

On the surface, these emails may check out. But they won’t hold up to greater scrutiny. Hover your mouse over every URL and attachment. If the destination is an unexpected site or server, don’t open it.

5. Test How Scam Savvy You Are

Admittedly, this is a lot to take in. If you learn better by doing, we recommend taking the Google phishing quiz[3]. You’ll have to decide whether an email is legitimate or a scam, and the answers aren’t always obvious!

How you do might be an eye-opener, but don’t worry if you fall for some scams. None of the examples are real, so your information will be safe. Google goes on to explain how you can catch each example of phishing, so you can apply these lessons to your next shopping trip.

person typing on laptop on marble table next to plate with fruit tea cup and saucer notepad and pineapple

Shop with These Online Security Tips in Mind

There are going to be a lot of amazing deals this Cyber Monday, but none of them are worth risking your cybersecurity for — or your finances. Keep both safe by thinking carefully about how you shop this Thanksgiving weekend.

What you learned here today may reduce your risk of falling victim to identity theft this holiday shopping season. But don’t forget to spend some time with your budget before you start scrolling.

Cyber Monday may be a pressure-cooker for your finances. You’re balancing the importance of staying safe with the need to find cheap deals, all under a strict timeline. With a tickertape counting down the minutes until the sales are over, you may feel the crunch.

It’s enough to stress you out, and trust us, only a few people make good decisions when they’re stressed.

Disaster-proof your holiday budget by taking a step back from the frenzy. It’s not the end of the world if you miss out on a deal. It will be a bigger issue, on the other hand, if you overspend or if your financial information gets exposed right before the holidays.

Fraud is just one emergency you might face this winter. If your unexpected emergency arrives in medical expenses or essential home repairs, contact us to learn more about what we do. We’re happy to answer any questions you might have about how a line of credit may help in an unexpected emergency.

Remember these online security tips and happy shopping!

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see CreditFresh’s Terms of Use.


[1] https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/am-i-responsible-for-unauthorized-charges-if-my-credit-cards-are-lost-or-stolen-en-29/  

[2] https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0213-lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-and-debit-cards

[3] https://phishingquiz.withgoogle.com/