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Tips for online shoppers to protect themselves against cyber thieves

J. Don McAlpin offers tips to protect against cyber crime

Online holiday shopping tempts cyber thieves to steal credit and debit card numbers. First United Bank of Marble Falls Community Bank President J. Don McAlpin offers tips on protecting your accounts. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

Online deal shoppers aren’t the only ones looking forward to the holiday season. Cyber criminals are eager to steal credit and debit card information to charge all sorts of products, leaving the bills for unsuspecting victims. 

People can takes steps to thwart these foes with lifetime appointments to Santa’s naughty list. 

These criminals are sometimes so set on their nefarious activities that they try to charge the same items multiple times and guess the card’s verification code in the hopes they can stumble upon them. Credit card company and bank fraud departments can pick up on this as well as other illegal activities and alert the customer, but industry experts still advise people to take a proactive role in safeguarding their accounts and money.

The first is to regularly balance your checkbook and check accounts, said J. Don McAlpin, community bank president at First United Bank of Marble Falls.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of having online and mobile banking,” he said. “That allows you to check it daily. There is no substitution for someone looking at their own accounts because they know what they charged. If you see something suspicious, time is of the essence to make sure someone doesn’t take advantage.”

Other ways to protect accounts:

• Avoid using auto-reload, which stores credit card numbers to automatically pay for services every 30 days. Disable it if you can. If not, ask the merchant if it has auto-reload limits and if anyone who isn’t you can switch it back on without your knowledge. Also find out the company’s policy on auto-reload fraud.

• Use new and complex passwords for every website, and change them every so often. 

• Look at the merchant’s security, such as lockouts, which prevent people from logging into your account from a different device, and multilevel authentication, which requires more than a login and password, such as a one-time code sent via text. And turn on real-time notifications and alerts. If you don’t like the merchant’s security measures, don’t give it sensitive information. 

• Use a credit card online rather than a debit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act limits financial losses to $50. Choose a credit card that has a solid record of fighting fraud and giving chargebacks. Those without credit cards can purchase retailer gift cards for online purchases. 

Professionals like McAlpin have witnessed all sorts of cyber activity from around the world, such as attempted charges for as little as 11 cents in Japan and charges in four and five figures for products in Europe.

As more of our financial activities and purchasing takes place online, it’s often difficult to track down just where funds went missing. The key is for people to closely monitor their accounts.

“It’s so hard to protect yourself, unfortunately,” McAlpin said. “It’s going to continue to be a battle. Criminals are trying to stay ahead. People are sitting at home, quarantining. (Online shopping has) become more of a convenience. It really doesn’t surprise me. Everything is at the touch of your fingertips.” 

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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