Stay secure for the holiday shopping season

Black Friday deals have gone online this year. Dan Watson/The Signal

With the coronavirus pandemic still at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it’s guaranteed that Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping will look a bit different this year.

Each year, it feels as if Black Friday has encroached more and more on the Thanksgiving holiday, with most stores opening with holiday shopping deals as early as 6 p.m. Thursday. 

This year however, many of the biggest retail chains have announced they’ll stay closed on the holiday, giving thousands of retail workers the holiday off for the first time in years.

Walmart and Target were among the first to announce they would be closed on Thanksgiving Day, with others quickly following suit.

Even Westfield Valencia Town Center has decided to close its doors for Thanksgiving, opening 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday.

Along with this news, many of these retailers have also announced Black Friday deals will begin much earlier than usual, with chains like Home Depot, Best Buy, Macy’s and Target instead opting for monthlong deals, a trend driven at least in part in years past by the rise of online shopping.

In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed shopping in crowded stores for Black Friday “high risk,” instead suggesting people shop online rather than in person.

With shopping continuing to shift online, especially now with the pandemic, a 2020 survey conducted by Credit Card Insider found that 51% of respondents indicated they’d rather shop online than in-store, an increase of 16% compared to last year.

Valencia resident Lizzie Gilman admits she’s changed her opinion on online shopping in recent years. 

“I used to be one of those people who would spend hours in the store holiday shopping for relatives and friends,” Gilman said. “I was never a fan of online shopping because I didn’t know how it worked, but now I’ve got a system down.” 

Gilman says she’s become a pro at finding the best deals online, which makes shopping online that much more beneficial.

“I’ll still go out and shop at some of my favorite small businesses, but now my holiday shopping is primarily done online — I can’t tell you how much I’ve saved,” she added.

With more online shopping also comes more credit card fraud, with Nathan Grant, senior credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider, saying this type of fraud specifically has become one of the fastest growing forms of identity theft.

Black Friday deals have gone online this year. Dan Watson/The Signal

Check your bank statements

A good first line of defense in ensuring your card information hasn’t been stolen is keeping an eye on your online statements, financial analysts agree. 

“It’s easy to forget to regularly check up on it, and sometimes stuff can fly under the radar that might be a sign that something has been compromised,” Grant said. “You wouldn’t know if you’re not checking it regularly enough.”

Financial analyst Peggy Williams agreed, adding, “Keeping tabs on those statements can also help you keep an eye on your spending, making sure you aren’t spending too much on those credit cards.”  

Due to the pandemic, the three major national credit reporting agencies are now giving people free weekly online credit reports through April 2021, which allows you to stay on top of your financial data.

Keep your card information to yourself

It’s assumed, but never give out your credit card information, unless you’re absolutely certain that it’s a trusted person or website,” Grant said. “The first thing you can do when shopping online is just verify that the website itself is legitimate because there’s so many fraudulent sites that are made to look like they’re a real site.”

When shopping online, there are a few things you can look for to make sure a website is secure and legitimate, including: 

  • HTTPS, rather than HTTP, in the website’s URL, as the S stands for secure, meaning the site has secure encryption.
  • Lock symbol to the left of the address bar also means that site is secure.

“Now, there are some sites that might be legit, but they might not just have the secure protections, so you wouldn’t want to enter your information on it if you didn’t see that,” Grant added.

Williams also suggests those online shopping create unique passwords when making accounts to prevent hackers from accessing multiple accounts using the same login information.

“It’s also important to use security software on your device and only shop on secure networks,” Williams added. “Hackers often spy on public Wifis and can intercept financial data, so a secure network and added security can help stop that from happening.” 

Black Friday deals have gone online this year. Dan Watson/The Signal

Remember, credit cards are more secure than debit cards

While credit cards are using borrowed credit, debit cards are tied to your actual bank account, with your actual money, Williams and Grant said.

“So if there were a case of fraud, it’s not your personal money on the line,” Grant said regarding using credit cards. 

With fraudulent charges on a debit card, once that money has been removed from your account, that money will be gone until the fraud investigation is resolved, which could take weeks.

“Credit cards have built-in protections, and are therefore much more secure than debit cards,” Williams said.

Taking advantage of modern technologies

Mobile and digital wallets, like Apple Pay and Google pay, can be even safer than credit cards, Grant and Williams agree.

These applications use tokenization to replace your sensitive card data with a string of letters and numbers that are meaningless outside the transaction that produced it.

“I think people are a little scared to put information into an app on their phone, but in most cases, that’s going to be much more secure than other places you can enter your direct payment information into,” Grant said. 

Regardless, the holidays will also bring another opportunity to support all the local businesses who weathered the storm this year, with the city of Santa Clarita continuing to urge residents to shop local.

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