Indiana Daily Student

How to stay safe when doing your holiday shopping online or in person

Cars drive under the Canopy of Lights in downtown Bloomington.
Cars drive under the Canopy of Lights in downtown Bloomington.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, online purchasing is at the forefront of holiday shopping this year, and small, local businesses are losing in-person customers.

Consumers should be aware of how to stay safe while both shopping online or in person.

Scott Shackelford, IU-Bloomington cybersecurity program chair and associate professor at the IU Kelley School of Business, said a common issue with online shopping is credit card fraud, but there are many ways to help protect yourself from identity theft online.

The first piece of advice Shackelford offered was to purchase items as a guest. If a site prompts you to create a profile with your card information to make it easier the next time you check out, do not do it. This helps you control how long your card information is stored, Shackelford said.

You should also freeze your credit as a rule of thumb. You don’t need to unfreeze your credit unless you are opening a new card or applying for some type of loan, Shackelford said. You can freeze your credit by visiting the three credit bureau sites — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.

“That basically makes it almost impossible for somebody else to open up a new credit card or a new loan in your name without you finding out about it,” Shackelford said.

You can also fall victim to ransomware attacks on the web, he said. To minimize harm from ransomware attacks, you should back up your Cloud and home computer data. Shackelford also said to be mindful of what browser you are using. It’s better to use a non-detecting browser, but if you want to use a more popular browser, like Google Chrome, be careful when allowing cookies, he said.

Shackelford said to not reuse passwords when possible or use a password manager instead. Always use two-factor identification if you can, he said.

“Be mindful of the basic cyber hygiene, just like we’re doing these days with our personal hygiene,” Shackelford said. 

Candace Miller, an IU postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society, small business expert and visiting assistant professor in the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, recommended holiday season shoppers consider shopping local in order to support the local economy. It can also contribute to the local culture, she said.

“If you have the resources to do so, I think it’s important that we support local businesses as much as possible,” she said.

Miller said to start shopping early if you want to shop local, especially if you are shopping from a local business online. Give the business enough time to ship the product, she said. Shipping companies are taking longer than usual this holiday season, she said.

Be patient with small businesses as well, Miller said. Some of them are trying their best to meet the needs of the community in these difficult times, she said.

“This has been an extremely challenging time for all of us,” Miller said. “But for small businesses who oftentimes struggle to get the resources that are necessary to keep their business open, it’s really important to support them because that’s going to be a major part of our recovery.”

Due to the pandemic, some small businesses have been struggling, especially those not able to convert to e-commerce, John Talbott, director of the IU Center for Education and Research in Retail and senior lecturer at the Kelley School of Business said. There are some ways to support local markets without shopping in person. Some have been able to convert online or provide delivery or curbside pickup services, he said. 

Talbott also said some retailers are asking shoppers to schedule appointments so customers and associates can feel safer.

If you want to shop in person, Talbott suggests you know what you want before going in so as to decrease time spent with other people.

“Go in with the purpose,” he said. “Acquire that object. Get out.”

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